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Behrooz Parhami's Blog & Books Page

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Page last updated on 2018 May 20

This page was created in 2009 as an outgrowth of the section entitled "Books Read or Heard" in my personal page. The rapid expansion of the list of books warranted devoting a separate page to it. Given that the book introductions and reviews constituted a form of personal blog, I decided to title this page "Blog & Books," to also allow discussion of interesting topics unrelated to books from time to time. Lately, non-book items (such as political news, tech news, puzzles, oddities, trivia, humor, art, and music) have formed the vast majority of the entries.

Entries in each section appear in reverse chronological order.

Blog entries for 2018
Blog entries for 2017
Blog entries for 2016
Archived blogs for 2015
Archived blogs for 2014
Archived blogs for 2012-13
Archived blogs up to 2011

Blog Entries for 2018

2018/05/20 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Poster for Fanni class of 1968 reunion in July 2018 (1) Tehran University College of Engineering (Daaneshkadeh-ye Fanni) 50th anniversary reunion of the class of 1968 is approaching: We will be in Yerevan, Armenia, from July 14 to July 18, 2018, staying at Metropol Hotel. So far, 10 classmates from Iran (6 with spouses) and 5 from other countries (2 with spouses) have confirmed their attendance. A few others are working on plans to join us.
Visiting this Facebook event page, you can indicate interest (to keep posted about updates) or attendance.
[PBS film on Armenia ("Parts Unknown")]
(2) [Trumpian logic] I was pulled over and blood on my clothes caused suspicion. The cops tried to pin the latest town murder on me, but DNA didn't match. Now they are looking at other murders. Witch hunt!
(3) The Trump of the high-tech world: The blood-testing company Theranos went from a worth of billions to zero virtually overnight. Tonight's "60 Minutes" program provided a lot of details. Elizabeth Holmes fooled investors, customers, and regulators into believing that her blood-testing technology based on pricking fingers, rather than drawing a much larger amount of blood, worked and, over several years, no one actually thought of testing her claims, before getting involved in what they thought was a profit bonanza. Some investors, including Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, lost millions, as the company's worth vanished.
(4) Iran's president MIA: In this wonderfully-written Persian essay, Lili Golestan asks President Rouhani some pointed questions: She wonders why he has been missing in action, not reacting to many positive developments (e.g., Jafar Panahi being honored at Cannes, while banned from leaving Iran to attend, and Iranian women winning Asia's futsal championship) and negative occurrences (e.g., clownish burning of a paper US flag in the parliament, while the Majlis speaker looked on, and cancelling of Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk's entire schedule of appearances in Iran) in the span of a single month.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- No, Donald! In a murder case, finding more bodies does not mean that the first victim was not killed.
- Word Tetris: This addicting game is a mix of Crossword, Scrabble, Word-Find, and Tetris!
- Giant strawberries in a package I bought today! [Photo]
- Hoping all of us can be like this man demonstrating soccer tricks at age 80! [1-minute video]
(6) "RBG: A Look at the Life and Work of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg": This documentary film, which I saw at SBIFF Riviera Theater today, is highly recommended. I had read two books about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, affectionately known as "The Notorious RBG," before seeing this film, but I still learned much about her remarkable life and contributions. The film is packed with information about RBG's trailblazing style, her love for her highly supportive husband (who passed away in 2010), and her collegiality with other Justices, and it contains quite a few funny moments. The historical photos and film clips used, including portions of RBG's remarks during her confirmation hearing, are riveting. [Photos] [Trailer]

2018/05/19 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cereal bowl, with berries Today's royal wedding kiss Photo of my dream dinner, grabbed from the Internet (1) Today in pictures: [Left] My favorite breakfast, when berries are in season. [Center] Nearly impossible to ignore the royal wedding, as it's everywhere! [Right] My dream dinner (photo grabbed from the Internet).
(2) More thoughts and prayers, and hardly any action: A Republican has mused that school shootings result from schools having too many doors. We demand background checks for door installers!
(3) It wasn't just Russia: Donald Trump Jr. met with emmisaries of Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates who wanted to help his dad become president. Oil tycoons trying to take over the world?
(4) When one in twenty cars on the road is a self-driving car, many traffic jams can be avoided: Even a single self-driving car can reduce phantom jams, which are jams created by the chain reaction resulting from a single car braking suddenly.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Deaths in 2018 from US school shootings exceed combat plus non-combat military casualties. [Chart]
- CDC data indicates that US farmers have the highest rate of suicide (4-5X that of the general population).
- North Korean officials reportedly reading Fire and Fury and Art of the Deal to understand Trump.
- The deputy who stayed outside during Parkland School massacre retires with $8700 monthly pension.
- New evidence of water plumes make Jupiter's moon Europa a prime candidate for hosting alien life.
- Time-location connectors in English: When to use "in," "on," "at." [Chart]
- Science explains the "Yanny versus Laurel" viral Internet question. [Video]
- Triple-threat young artist: Mezzo-soprano, pianist, and composer Miyoung Kim performs a Rossini aria.
- A persian verse, translated and technically illustrated. ["The world has its ups and downs, don't worry"]
- Interesting digital display of images and text on a computer-controlled waterfall in Iran. [2-minute video]
(6) Secret parts of Anne Frank's diary: A team of Dutch researchers backlit two pages Anne Frank had covered with making tape in her diary, took photos, and used an image-processing software to make the text legible. The uncovered entry, dated September 28, 1942, contained five crossed-out phrases, four dirty jokes, and 33 lines about sex education and prostitution.

2018/05/18 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Mars probe captures photo of Earth and Moon (1) Sobering thought for the day: Mars probe captures photo of Earth and Moon that makes us feel truly insignificant.
(2) I will definitely watch this movie about Ruth Bader Ginsburg. (Santa Barbara's Riviera Theater, May 17-24, 5:00 & 7:30 PM; Sat-Sun also at 12:30 & 2:45 PM)
(3) Book signing in Santa Barbara: The book Lost Boys about Iran, written by Darcy Rosenblatt, sounds interesting. (Event at Chaucer's Books, Sunday 5/20, 2:00 PM)
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- And who in the world would take Trump's protection guarantees seriously? [Trump addresses N. Korea]
- Texas teen uses dad's guns to murder 10 and injure 10 others at school: Thoughts and prayers, no action!
- World news on hold, while two people get married. I'm sick of the wall-to-wall coverage of "royal wedding"!
- Bill Gates discusses the two meetings he had with Donald Trump, and it ain't a pretty picture! [Video]
- This Der Spiegel cover cartoon from exactly one year ago is still very relevant.
- Persian poetry: Selected verses from Parvin E'tessami's poem "Hope and Despair" ("Omid va No'midi")
(5) Storke Tower tour: Today at noon, I went on the Storke Tower tour, offered as part of the Staff Celebration week activities. The tour went to the observation level, just below the carillon level, which was not accessible today. These photos show views from all four sides, plus zoom-ins showing the airport and Goleta Pier (with Engineering I Building to its left).
(6) Tour of UCSB's data center in North Hall: Held from 1:00 to 2:00 PM today, the tour was part of the Staff Celebration Week activities. The North Hall facilty used to house UCSB's data processing operations, which entailed the use of a mainframe. Later, computer facilities were distributed across the campus, until it was decided to have a communal facility, where each campus entity could install and manage its servers, while enjoying a central staff, machine room cooling, uninterrupted power, 24/7 security, and other benefits of pooling their resources together. Servers are housed in locked racks which are accessible only to authorized personnel. Racks are placed along rows, in such a way that the aisles between them are alternately cool and hot. Cool aisles have perforated floors through which chilled air is pumped. The cold air goes through the servers and emerges hot in the adjacent aisle, where it is sucked through the ceiling and sent to chilling devices. Walking through the hot aisles was uncomfortable. Temparatures across the data center are continually monitored and any rise above a threshold is detected and dealt with by either increasing the cooling power or reducing load. Rows of racks are placed on special foundations that allow them to swing back and forth in the event of an earthquake. The server hall contains uninterrupted power supplies and cooling devices, as well as termination points for fiber-optic cables that connect the campus to the external world. Critical communication equipment in the data center are placed behind a fence wall, from where they connect to the racks via overhead cables. We saw a demonstration of disk crushing/nuking machine that allows secure discarding of old hard disks. The last parts of the tour led us to backup chillers and generator outside the building. [16 photos]
(7) Computer Science Distinguished Lecture at UCSB: Held beginning at 2:00 this afternoon, the lecture by Jiawei Han (Professor, U. Illinois) was entitled "Mining Structures from Massive Text Data: A Data-Driven Approach." Much of the real-world data is textual and, thus, unstructured. To extract big knowledge from big data, some sort of structure must be imposed. The conversion from unstructured to structured data must be automatic if we hope to make it scalable. The speaker argued that massive text data itself may disclose a large body of hidden patterns, structures, and knowledge, which can be extracted with help from domain-independent and domain-specific knowledge bases. Professor Han's research has shown that massive text data disclose patterns and structures for conversion to structured knowledge. A key insight is that the focus should be placed on phrases, rather then words. Phrases can be understood by seeing which other phrases are associated with them in our massive text databases, examples of which include Wikipedia, specialized bibliographies, news sources, and books. [7 slides]

2018/05/17 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
School bus, 1937 Tehran, Iran, 1970s London bus, 1928 (1) History in pictures: [Left] School bus, 1937. [Center] Tehran, Iran, 1970s. [Right] London bus, 1928.
(2) Alien life on Earth: There have been some suggestions that instead of, or alongside, searching the cosmos for signs of life, we should scour the myriads of microorganisms on Earth to determine whether some of them arrived from space on meteorites. It is unlikely that larger life forms arrived from space. But, in a stunning development, 33 scientists think that octopi may be alien life forms.
(3) Trump picked a pastor who says Jews will go to hell to lead the prayer at Jerusalem embassy opening.
(4) Missing files trigger fear of cover-up: A law-enforcement official leaked Michael Cohen's financial records after finding out that additional suspicious transactions had disappeared from a government database.
(5) Today's top-ten news headlines:
- Mueller's Russia probe enters its second year
- US birth rate hits its lowest level since 1987
- Hawaii's Kilauea volcano spews out huge rocks
- US Senate votes to reinstate net neutrality
- US Senate panel: Russia favored Trump in 2016
- MSU to pay $500M to Larry Nassar abuse survivors
- Cambridge Analytica under DoJ and FBI probe
- Death toll rises in Gaza-Israel border conflicts
- Michael Avenatti reveals more payoffs to women
- Tom Wolfe, journalist and novelist, dead at 88
(6) Classical music recital: Late spring quarter is the time for formal performances by the various ensembles and students affiliated with UCSB's Music Department. Not knowing any of the students, I chose, more or less at random, a few of their performances that fit my schedule. In the case of today, I hit the jackpot and was treated to the mezzo-soprano voice of the delightful Kelly Newberry, a young performer with a highly developed voice and style.
As encore, Ms. Newberry offered a beautiful rendition of "The Sound of Music" title song. [The program]
Sample music from YouTube: "Oh! Quand Je Dors" and "Somewhere" (from "West Side Story")
During the intermission, I discovered that I had been sitting next to the performer's teacher, opera singer and biomedical engineer Isabel Bayrakdarian. She introduced herself and volunteered that I looked familiar (which isn't surprising, given how many Music Dept. events I attend). A discussion on our Media Arts and Technology Program and advances in the therapeutic use of music ensued. She was obviously very proud of her student.
[In the margin: Leaving the recital, I came across this outdoors music class. Too bad I can't hold my classes outdoors on these beautiful spring days, given the need for block diagrams, formulas, and charts/graphs!]

2018/05/16 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Peace symbol: Dove with olive branch Colorful design made of peace signs International peace sign (1) Hoping for the demise of hateful warmongers and the establishment of peace on Earth!
(2) Corruption to the extreme: Do you wonder why Trump has suddenly warmed up to trade with the Chinese, to the extent of wanting to bail out their telecom giant and save the associated Chinese jobs? It just so happens that China is providing a $500 million loan to a Trump-affiliated resort project in Indonesia.
(3) Why Washington's swamp creatures tolerate Trump: Before Trump's election, the American people were quite dissatisfied with politicians, Republicans and Democrats, and were actively organizing to kick them out of office. Now all these swamp creatures are looking benign in comparison with the scariest creature of them all!
(4) Tomas Lang [1938-2018]: One of the best-known and most-respected computer arithmetic researchers, Tomas also contributed to a variety of other subfields of computer architecture. He was a regular contributor to IEEE Trans. Computers and to IEEE Symp. Computer Arithmetic. I first met him at UCLA in the early 1970s, during my doctoral studies. He later got settled at UC Irvine and retired from there. RIP, old friend! [Tribute]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- North Korea cancels high-level talks with South Korea and threatens to cancel summit with the US.
- Europe is hard at work to rescue the Iran nuclear deal. [Aljazeera report]
- The physics of NASA's planned helicopter flight on Mars. [Wired article]
- Science reveals the answer: How giant dinosaurs sat on their eggs without crushing them.
- Antarctica-centered world map: Change of perspective is often helpful to understanding.
- A brilliant senior prank: Creating the illusion of a car breaking through a wall. [Photo]
(6) "All in this Together: Racial Justice and Democracy in the 21st Century": This was the title of last night's talk by Rinku Sen at UCSB's Multicultural Center Theater in the framework of UCSB Diversity Lectures.
Ms. Sen began with a very personal story from 1999, when the man she had been dating suddenly married someone else. After being down for a period of time, she ventured out to a Safeway supermarket, where she overheard a couple of white people talking about the unfortunate dissolution of a labor union. When she tried to express an opinion about how to confront the problem, she was dismissed in a rude manner because of her brown skin. By the way, until I heard this story, I thought of the youthful-looking speaker as someone just out of college! Ms. Sen related a number of stories about the current predicament in the US and around the world, where racists feel empowered to speak their minds without any of the considerations that had become part of our social norms before the Trump era.
Ms. Sen characterized the actions of racists, a group that includes many who are not Trump supporters, as "racial terror." She concluded by providing three practical tips for helping solve the racism problem.
- Interrupt racist speech: If you are engaged in a discussion or debate, follow the three steps of connect (connection should be genuine), pivot, and educate. For the latter part, avoid lecturing and spewing facts and tell stories instead. In other contexts, where debating is impractical or undesirable, just do the first step of interrupting, because that in itself defangs the offender. Be aware that some risk of physical harm is involved in interrupting racist speech; so, proceed with care.
- Get in proximity with people of color, even if you are a colored person yourself. This is very important for developing understanding. Some 60% of white people in the US do not have any colored friends. This advice reminds me of an anonymous quote I encountered a while ago: "Prejudice can't survive proximity."
- Examine all national and local policy debates through a racial lens. This is akin to environmental impact assessments that are required for erecting a building, developing a road, and starting almost any construction project. In a similar vein, a racial impact assessment should be required before enacting laws and policies.
Here are some resources: Race Forward; The Maven; Responding to Racist Talk at Family Gatherings.
Here are a couple of photos I took on my way to the Multicultural Center Theater for the talk.

2018/05/14 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Der Spiegel cover image of May 12, 2018 (1) Germany's Der Spiegel continues to taunt Trump with its cover images.
(2) Persian poetry: Selected verses from a beautiful poem by Hafez.
(3) This isn't a prison in the normal sense of the term: Even though the women living in this dorm, in the Iranian city of Sanandaj, can get out if they want, they are indeed prisoners of their backward, misogynistic government which denies them sunlight, in the off chance that male passers-by might catch a glimpse of their silhouettes, as they go about their daily routines. Sickening!
(4) Festivities and deadly protests in Israel: As Ivanka Trump opened the US embassy in Jerusalem with a big smile, some 60 Palestinians from Gaza Strip were killed at the Israeli border. Hamas leaders egged on the protesters to try to cross the border, where Israeli border patrols shot at them. Whether this was a legitimate defense by Israel is open to question. What is beyond question is the stupidity of the embassy move with drumbeat and fanfare. You can't poke an adversary in the eye and then extend peace offer to it. [Photos]
(5) Think twice before ordering sunny-side-up eggs: According to US CDC, more than 30 people have reported getting sick after consuming eggs contaminated with salmonella.
(6) Ancestry research continues to expose hypocrites: Tomi Lahren, a conservative commentator on Fox News, spews hatred about immigrants in her rants. Her hateful commentary often thrashes poor people and those who are not fluent in English as undeserving of becoming Americans. German genealogist and journalist Jennifer Mendelsohn researched Laren's ancestry and came up with these gems, among others. Not many of these immigrant-bashers would be here today if the policies they advocate were in effect when their ancestors came to this country. Some of my own family members, who were born outside the US and knew little English when they came over, are now among the most ardent immigrant-bashers.
(7) An observation from Iran (received via Telegram): The tragedy of our lives is that we are censored by one country and sanctioned by another. We use anti-filter software from the sanctioning country to read the news about the sanctioned, censoring country! [In Persian]
(8) Giving credit where credit is due: A symposium credits physicist Eunice Foote for her role in discovering the principal cause of global warming. (Front cover of Eunice Foote's 1856 paper on global warming)
(9) Ad (date unknown) for a portable typewriter weighing only 4 times as much as a modern laptop and 8 times as much as an iPad!

2018/05/13 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Mothers' Day greetings (1) A very happy Mothers' Day to my mom, my three sisters, and all the women friends whose motherly instincts and love make the world go around!
(2) Hawaii's Big Island under siege: I snapped these TV screen shots from a CNN Report, late this morning. New fissures keep opening up, some many miles away from the volcano itself, which may blow up any time now.
(3) Quote of the day: "Trump is what he is, a floundering, inarticulate jumble of gnawing insecurities and not-at-all compensating vanities, which is pathetic. Pence is what he has chosen to be, which is horrifying." ~ Columnist George Will, on VP Pence's Faustian bargain with the devil
(4) Reacting to a professor's comment that her shorts were too short, Cornell University student presented her thesis in underwear.
(5) California flexes its muscles: US automakers wanted some relief from Obama-era emission standards. The Trump administration gave them more than they asked for. Now, they are worried that California might set its own stricter standards, forcing manufacturers to make two categories of cars, which would raise their costs. Trump has ordered administration officials to negotiate with California about a uniform US standard.
(6) Benedict Cumberbatch: One of the few male actors standing up for the rights of his female co-stars: He won't accept film roles, unless actresses playing against him get equal pay.
Cover image for Naomi Klein's 'No Is Not Enough' (7) Book review: Klein, Naomi, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump's Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need, unabridged audiobook on 7 CDs, read by Brit Marling, Blackstone Audio, 2017.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Klein issues a timely warning about the perils of Trump's presidency, advising that mere refusal must be replaced with thoughtful resistance to prevent further erosion of our rights and democratic institutions. In the process, Klein makes frequent references to The Shock Doctrine, subject of an earlier book of hers, in which she suggests that the political Right and corporations manufacture one crisis after another, using the resulting chaos and fear to advance their self-serving agendas. We must learn to function within this unending crisis mode, rather than wait for the dust to settle, so to speak, before we act.
Quoting from the blurb on the back of the CD box for the book's audio version, "Klein explains that Trump, extreme as he is, is not an aberration but a logical extension of the worst and most dangerous trends of the past half-century. In exposing the malignant forces behind Trump's rise, she puts forward a bold vision for a mass movement to counter rising militarism, racism, and corporatism in the United States and around the world." In a sense, therefore, undue focus on Trump's racism and racist supporters may blind us to the forces he has unleashed within the military industrial complex and large multi-national corporations, which will be the major beneficiaries of his fiscal policies. So, racist groups and incidents may be viewed as the shock factors that allow the rest of his agenda to go forward unnoticed.
The early parts of No Is Not Enough are much better-written and more convincingly argued, to the point of being eye-opening in many regards. The second half gets bogged down in minutia, questionable assumptions, and less-than-convincing arguments. This may be, in part, due to the speed with which the book went from conception to publication. Nevertheless, this is an important book that must be read by anyone who wants to play a role in effective resistance against the Trump administration and Trump-like political operatives in the United States and around the world.

2018/05/12 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Climate change hoax The latest Lego-blocks set Baloney (1) Interesting designs: [Left] "Climate change hoax." [Center] The latest Lego-blocks set. [Right] "Baloney."
(2) Brain drain from a nation known for its start-up culture: Iran is tops in the world, when it comes to brain drain. However, Newsweek reports that many Israelis are also moving to the US and staying for good.
(3) Iran's Supreme Leader is shown inspecting a Persian version of Fire and Fury at a book fair. Of course, no equivalent book about Khamenei himself will see the light of day in Iran!
(4) Eighty-two women stood together on Cannes Film Festival's red carpet in a protest for better treatment and representation of women in film (#TimesUp).
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- NASA plans to use a small helicopter for exploration on its 2020 rover mission to Mars.
- Senator Chuck Schumer responds to Trump's Twitter rant with #BeBest, and nothing else!
- Iranian women's futsal and karate teams claim Asian championships. [Team photos]
- History in pictures: Netherlands, 1966 (B&W photo by Rudi Herzog).
- Cartoon of the day: The first couple reveal their respective social agendas. [Image]
- Persian poetry: A beautiful couplet from Haatef Esfahaani. [Persian text]
- Taking tooth-and-nail literally! [Video]
- "Nothing in this world is harder than speaking the truth, nothing easier than flattery." ~ Fyodor Dostoyevsky
- Persian love song for the departed beloved "Telegram"! [1-minute video]
Cover image for Leslie T. Chang's 'Factory Girls' (6) Book review: Chang, Leslie T., Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China, unabridged audiobook on 12 CDs, read by Susan Erickson, Tantor Media, 2008.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
By focusing on the lives of two young women, whom she shadowed for three years, Chang, a former WSJ correspondent in Beijing, tells the story of China's 130 million migrant workers, constituting the largest migration in human history.
Chinese migrants are predominantly young men and women who flee the poverty and idleness of rural life in pursuit of their dreams, taking occasional English and computer classes for enhanced upward mobility. Chang intertwines the migrant workers' life stories with the adventures of her own family, who migrated within China and eventually moved to the West.
About one-third of migrants are women, who are on average younger, travel further from home, and stay out longer than their male counterparts. This is, in part, because they can gain more from the experience of moving away from a home where they are not really wanted. But they also tend to end up in a no-woman's land, between unfriendly family members and urban youths who don't quite accept them.
This eye-opening book exposes the dire economic conditions in China and the immense personal and familial sacrifices the migrants make to be able to live just above the poverty line. China's economic might is built on the backs of these young workers.

2018/05/11 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Orestis Koletsos Greek Ensemble (1) Greek music: Orestis Koletsos Greek Ensemble performed tonight at UCSB's Multicultural Center Theater to a sold-out audience. The group consists of four wonderful musicians, who are inspired by composer Mikis Theodorakis, of "Zorba the Greek" fame, who almost single-handedly popularized Greek music worldwide. [Photos]
Here's a complete 115-minute concert of the group from YouTube.
(2) Dance movements converted to music: With sensors connected to his body, dancer Kaiji Moriyama became a finely tuned musical instrument, as AI interpreted his body movements, converted them to MIDI data, and sent them to a Yamaha Disklavier player piano. [Photo credit: IEEE Spectrum, issue of May 2018]
(3) Two very different Irans: The Iran of Asghar Farhadi, whose latest film, "Everybody Knows," was given the honor of opening the Cannes Film Festival, and the Iran of mullahs, where they torch print-outs of US flag and the nuclear agreement in the parliament. And there are two very different USAs as well!
(4) Growing a new ear: Doctors at William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, Texas, took cartilage from a soldier's ribs to craft a new ear, which was then inserted under the skin of the forearm so that it could grow as a replacement for an ear he lost in an accident. [Photo] [Source: Newsweek]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Analysis of Russian-funded Facebook ads shows they even used Beyonce to sow discord among Americans.
- The strongman era is upon us: How tough guys came to rule the world. [Time magazine image]
- UCSB Library's special display marking the Middle East Awareness Week.
- Photos from my walk on the beach this afternoon: Including image of the audiobook I am listening to.
- The Borowitz Report (humor): Trump considering pulling US out of Constitution.
- English translation of a poem by Mowlavi (Rumi). [Text image]
- Vegan: "Anyone who sells meat is gross." Carnivore: "Well, anyone who sells fruits and vegetables is grocer."
(6) Cartoon of the day: Iran's economy may have entered a death spiral, as the government fails to slow the rising exchange rate for US dollar. [Image credit:]
(7) Support among Republicans for challenging Trump in the 2020 presidential election, by age group: 18-24, 82%; 25-34, 57%; 35-44, 58%; 65+: 26%. It seems that older people are more easily scared! Trump losing in the primaries would be such poetic justice! I am sure he will blame the media, illegal voters, or even Putin (on whom Trump was very tough; LOL).
(8) Hearing Alexander Graham Bell's voice: This badly decomposed wax disk recording from 1885 was scanned digitally to recover the sound waves stored on it. The recording turned out to be Bell's famous statement "Hear my voice." [Photo credit: IEEE Spectrum, issue of May 2018]

2018/05/10 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Morality policewoman questions a woman's hijab in front of Tehran University (1) Morality policewoman questions a woman's hijab in front of Tehran University. [Photo credit:]
(2) Madmen click together: Only Trump would try to negotiate a nuclear deal with a madman, who has reneged on every past promise, while scrapping another nuclear deal that seemed to be working, according to.our major European allies.
(3) On US foreign policy: An insightful analysis of differences between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton, and why a clash between their contrasting styles is inevitable.
(4) Meanwhile in Iran: Hardliners, including the Supreme Leader, are basking in Trump's decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal, telling anyone who'd listen that they were right in their "US cannot be trusted" advice.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Kim Jong Un releases three US prisoners ahead of his planned meeting with Donald Trump.
- Hawaii's Kilauea volcano could soon erupt again, spewing ash and boulder-size rocks in the air. [Photo]
- Persian poetry: A wonderful verse from Sa'adi. [Poem]
- Ancient Buddhist statue is found to contain hoard of artifacts, including scrolls.
- Quote of the day: "If you obsess about your looks, it kills your spirit." ~ Actress/model Lauren Hutton
- PhotoShopped images are no longer distinguishable from real ones: A rock in Thailand. [Image]
(6) Alan Turing, known as father of computer science, was also a naturalist, who used math to explain patterns in nature, with results that continue to enlighten today's researchers.
(7) You have seen mud and, more recently, lava covering a street. Now for something more pleasant: Liquid chocolate spilled from an overturned truck! [Photo]
(8) Some celebrity big-birthdays in April and May, 2018, according to AARP Magazine: Patricia Arquette (50); Michelle Pfeiffer (60); Stevie Nicks (70); Jerry West (80)
(9) Last evening's IEEE Central-Coast Section Meeting: Held at Upham Hotel near downtown Santa Barbara, the meeting began with drinks and appetizers, and it continued with a sumptuous meal. There was a short after-dinner presentation by Adi Wadaskar, Chair of UCSB's IEEE Student Branch, who described the experience of a few UCSB students in attending IEEE's Rising-Stars Conference in Las Vegas, where they learned about networking and personal branding, which are important requirements in today's job market. The main speaker was Dennis Horwitz, who presented an engineer's view of lightweight backpacking. Using new products and technologies, he has been able to reduce the weight of his gear (including backpack, tarp, ground cover, dishes, utensils, stove, and other necessities) to 10 lbs and the total weight including consumables to under 20 lbs. Some of the accompanying slides provide additional details.

2018/05/08 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image for Sean Carroll's 'The Big Picture' (1) Book review: Carroll, Sean, The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself, Unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by the author, Penguin Audio, 2016.
[My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads; in extended form]
The title of this book seems at first to be pretentious and overambitious, but Carroll delivers effortlessly on its promise. At the physical level, the entire universe is composed of atoms, themselves formed of sub-atomic particles. Given the laws of physics, we should be able to determine the next state of the universe from its current state, what LaPlace claimed a "demon" could do, given enough computational resources. And herein lies the paradox: The required computational resources are so immense, that the theoretically possible eventuality is unlikely to materialize.
A recurring theme in this book is that we need models at multiple levels of abstraction to make sense of the world around us and to think/talk about it. Trouble arises when we mix these levels and start talking about several of them at once. For example, in the morning, we may go to our clothes closet and "choose" what to wear to work. We would get in trouble if we simultaneously think about that "decision" at the atomic level.
In a similar vein, we can talk about a gas in terms of the atoms comprising it or we can resort to high-level "emergent" properties such as temperature, pressure, and density. These emergent properties allow us to talk about gases, without dealing with the enormous complexity we would encounter in an atomic-level model. It is in the same sense that talking about emotions, moral values, and free will makes sense, despite the fact that everything is essentially pre-determined. Pascal famously said that what seems like a human-being's free will is really God's will, manifesting itself in our decisions. Modern science has replaced "God" in Pascal's formulation with "physics" or "nature."
Carroll, recognized as one of the greatest humanist thinkers of his generation, discusses a wide range of topics in terms of three key concepts of entropy, complexity, and time-arrow, as he takes the reader/listener on a fantastic journey through all that is known about our physical world and spiritual existence.
Here is Carroll's 63-minute book talk at Google.
(2) [Riddle] Question: Why do people hate elevator music? Answer: Because even though it's uplifting at first, it brings you down in the end.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Trump orders US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and authorizes the reimposing of sanctions.
- Company tied to a Russian oligarch deposited $500K in the account used to pay off Stormy Daniels.
- John McCain makes it clear that he does not want Trump at his funeral.
- Salaries of college/university employees. [Chart]
- The May 2018 issue of E&T magazine covers the crisis of trust in technology in the wake of data abuse.
- Cartoon of the day: All of Trump's tweets organized by subject matter, in a boxed set! [Image]
(4) "All in this Together: Racial Justice and Democracy in the 21st Century": This lecture by Rinku Sen is part of the program marking the 30th anniversary of UCSB's Multicultural Center; May 15, 6:00 PM, MCC Theater.

2018/05/07 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
(1) "Food and Drink in Ancient Iran": A one-day symposium at UC Irvine, Tuesday, May 15, 2018, 9:30 AM to 5:30 PM.
(2) New York State Attorney General, a staunch Trump opponent who had portrayed himself as a champion of the #MeToo movement, resigns amid allegations of violence against women and sexual misconduct.
(3) This professor has a cure for the sociopolitical mess we are in: Focus on positive feelings and words that describe them, instead of endlessly repeating negative terms such as "anxiety" or "stress"!
(4) Comedy news beats the real news in clarity: A closer look at Rudy Giuliani's lies and missteps since he started representing Donald Trump, from funny-men Seth Myers and Stephen Colbert.
(5) Math problem: You have been put in charge of building a spherical dome to house a human colony on Mars. The terrain does not allow the circular base of the dome to be larger than 300 m in diameter. What is the required minimum height, if the dome built on flat surface is to hold 5 million cubic meters of breathable air?
(6) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Impressive footage of lava flows on Hawaii's Big Island. [Lava swallows a car]
- Union workers' strike may cripple University of California campuses, beginning today. [Strikers at UCSB]
- Quote of the day: "You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream." ~ C. S. Lewis
- Einstein wants you to help spread the gospel of science in K-12 classes. [Sign on UCSB campus]
- Interesting scientific details about the design of the font used in standard eye charts. [Video]
- Digital art: An immersive exhibition in Paris. [Video]
- Cartoon of the day: "My insurance doesn't cover pre-historic conditions." [Image]
- Creating works of art out of aluminum cans, using nothing but fingers. [Video]
(7) Book introductions: Four recent books about women in computing, their contributions, and the challenges they face. Women Codebreakers at Bletchley Park (Kerry Howard); Code Girls (Liza Mundy); The Women Who Smashed Codes (Jason Fagone); Brotopia (Emily Chang) [From Moshe Vardi's CACM column, May 2018]

2018/05/05 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Poorly worded memorial message on a bench Cat covers up girl's portrait Cartoon: The dinosaurs' last supper (1) Funny and/or interesting images: [Left] This poorly worded memorial message on a bench was intended to honor a dog lover! [Center] Cat covers up girl's portrait. [Right] The dinosaurs' last supper.
(2) In the school of life, everyone's a teacher. If you are willing to learn, everyone has something to teach you. Happy Teachers' Day!
(3) "Active Measures": This is the title of the first feature-length documentary about the Trump-Russia connection. It premiers at Toronto's Hot Docs Film Festival this week. This Vanity Fair story is comprehensive and spells out the details of how the film came about and what it covers. Bear in mind, though, that the publication is staunchly anti-Trump. Other sources describe the film in less favorable terms.
(4) Book introduction: Amanda Carpenter's just-released book, Gaslighting America: Why We Love It When Trump Lies to Us, exposes Trump's methods to remain in the media spotlight by creating one false story after another. Opponents revel in the lies, because they think each new lie will be Trump's undoing. Meanwhile, Trump moves from one lie to the next, before we have had a chance to absorb, analyze, understand, and counter the narrative.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Mag.-6.9 quake, strongest in 40 years, and volcanic eruption lead to evacuations on Hawaii's Big Island.
- Macron's "Make Our Planet Great Again" program chooses six more US scientists.
- Extreme hamocking in Shanghai, China. [Photo]
- Cartoon of the day: Food truck operator takes a cue from the air travel industry. [Image]
- The war of a single space vs. two spaces after a period continues: Science intervenes.
- Persian poetry: A wonderful verse from the beloved Azeri poet Shahriar: Facebook post.
(6) [Technology] Vatican's secret archives are being made accessible through AI: Conventional character recognition systems for converting text to digitally coded form do not work with handwritten script, so new methods are being developed for the said conversion by focusing on pen strokes, rather than letters.
(7) [Puzzle] What is the only number formed by a string of 10 digits in which the first digit equals the number of 0s in the string, the second digit indicates the number of 1s, the third digit is the number of 2s, and so on? Digit repetition is allowed.
(8) "What Helps Students Learn to Grapple with Complex Scientific Dilemmas": This was the title of a May 3 talk by UC Berkeley Professor of Education Marcia C. Linn, who spoke under the auspices of UCSB's Annual Lecture on Science Education. The focus of the talk was on understanding how middle-school students revise scientific hypotheses when they lead to contradictions and how to help them along with the revision process. Key issues were introduced through examples and reinforced by audience participation in mini-conferences. The WISE (Web-based Inquiry Science Environment) modeling tool was introduced and briefly discussed.

2018/05/03 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Photoshopped image of Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un hand in hand (1) Will we see Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un hand in hand soon? If so, what will become of the oppressed and starving North Korean people?
(2) On World Press Freedom Day, let's remember all journalists who are imprisoned in Iran, Turkey, and elsewhere in the world. [And those being bullied in the US!]
(3) It's illegal to yell "fire" in a crowded library. You have to go whisper it to each person individually. For more humorous "facts" about the library, see this New Yorker piece.
(4) [Art] The Community Arts Music Association (CAMA) kicks of its centennial celebrations with a concert by UCSB students and faculty (including flutist Jill Felber, cellist Jennifer Kloetzel, and pianist Robert Koenig) at Santa Barbara's Trinity Epicopal Church, 1500 State Street, on Sunday, May 6, 2018, beginning at 4:00 PM.
(5) Trump is said to be repeating one of key mistakes of the Great Depression: More than 1100 economists, including 14 Nobel laureates, urge Trump to reverse course on recent trade measures.
(6) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Fierce dust storms and thundershowers kill 90+ in the north of India, injuring many more.
- Putin is trying to block Telegram, a secure messaging/blogging platform used by 15+ million Russians.
- Ukraine stopped cooperating with the US Russia probe after Trump gave them weapons.
- Just published is a treatise on parallel universes that Stephen Hawking completed days before his death.
- Donald Trump has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by Luke Messer and 17 other House members.
- [Humor] What Trump's acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize might look like!
(7) World's most advanced digital society: Estonia has transformed itself from a backward part of the Soviet Union to an EU and NATO member-country that leads the world in e-government. The country has declared access to the Internet a social right. It even grants e-residency to citizens of other countries, which would allow them to form companies and do business in Estonia, with full access to government services. Everything can be done on-line. For example, at tax time, the government pre-fills the required forms with information that it has, which allows citizens to go on-line and file their taxes with a quick check of the information already there and supplying a few missing entries. Estonia backs up its data in digital embassies in other countries via blockchain technology, which allows it to avoid cyber-attacks of the kind it experienced, likely from Russia, in 2007. An impressive part of this PBS Newshour story on Estonia is the number of women experts who explain the various aspects of their e-government.
(8) A con-man's scramble: Through his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Trump admits that he repaid Michael Cohen for the $130,000 hush money he paid to Stormy Daniels. Why the admission, and why now? Because not having repaid Cohen puts him in violation of campaign laws, whereas paying him back turns the matter into a personal indiscretion, not a criminal violation. However, experts are saying that the manner in which the money was paid back (pretending that it was for legal services rendered by Cohen) amounts to money laundering, a crime.

2018/05/02 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Teacher of the Year at the White House (1) Teacher of the Year, honored at the White House, lets her buttons do the talkine.
(2) Buddha on anger: "Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned."
(3) US President Andrew Jackson procrastination: "There is no pleasure in having nothing to do; the fun is having lots to do and not doing it."
(4) Superbrain yoga: I am usually skeptical about these kinds of claims on improving mental powers, but decided to share this video, just in case. Judge for yourself. [4-minute video]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- John Kelly's job in jeopardy, after he joins the growing list of those calling Trump an idiot.
- Jared Kushner's demise has been predicted many times before, but he may be on his way out for real.
- No one in Trump's Russia-probe legal team has the security clearance needed to negotiate with Mueller.
- Former Mueller assistant says grammatical errors indicate that the leaked questions come from Trump.
- Trump's former doctor turns on him: Claims Trump dictated flattering health letter.
- Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif: What Baha'i prisoners? [Cartoon] [Iranwire story]
- Iran is destroying mass graves from the 1988 extra-judicial political executions.
- Iran's judiciary bans Telegram: Many are using the messaging app via anti-filtering software.
- With blacks like Kanye, stating that slavery was a choice, who needs White Supremacists?
- "Upper classes are a nation's past; the middle class is its future." ~ Author Ayn Rand [1905-1982]
(6) [Technology] Ocean farming: Seaweed provides plenty of food and jobs, while helping clean up our oceans. In a scheme known as vertical ocean farming, seaweed farming is combined with growing scallops, mussels, oysters, and other sea creatures at various depths, allowing efficient food production in small ocean plots.
(7) [Science] CRISPR, the gene-editing tool that is revolutionizing biomedical research: We are getting closer to the day when a wide array of ailments can be cured by gene modification, according to this very informative report from "60 Minutes."
(8) Final thought for the day: People put a lot of trust in engineers. Ten most terrifying skywalks in the world. [Since the preceding video was made, the Chongqing Skywalk has opened in China.

2018/04/30 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Teens hanging out, unknown location, 1950s Las Vegas, 1940 vs. 2017 Only in Ireland, 1950s (1) History in pictures: [Left] Teens hanging out, unknown location, 1950s. [Center] Las Vegas, 1940 vs. 2017. [Right] Only in Ireland, 1950s.
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Israel claims it has snatched an archive of documents on Iran's nuclear-bomb program from a secret facility.
- Not fake news: The Doppler effect changes the perceived color when an object moves at super-high speed.
- The Weather Channel has launched Project Trumpmore to carve Trump's face onto a melting iceberg.
- Brazilian Rodrigo Koxa sets world record for riding an 80-foot monster wave.
- Good response to those who think women accuse men of sexual misconduct to seek fame. [Tweet]
- Little Rocket Man is now a Great Honorable Man. Please erase all previous tweets that refer to LRM.
(3) How can anyone suggest a Peace Prize for a boor who threatened North Korea with "fire and fury," dismissed a nuclear treaty that the entire world supports, vilified refugees from war-torn regions, and sabotaged the hopes for Arab-Israeli reconciliation?
(4) Not an exact quote: Republicans study and pass bills like the rest of us read and accept updated terms and conditions on iTunes. ~ Comedian Seth Myers, speaking at an Obama-era White House Correspondents Dinner [I do miss the smart comedy of the past]
(5) "Are Friends Electric: Our Future Lives with Robots": This was the title of a fascinating talk by Tony Prescott (Professor of Cognitive Robotics, U. Sheffield), constituting the last of three talks he delivered at UCSB. I reported on the first talk, entitled "Understanding the Brain by Building Robots," on April 16. I missed the second talk, entitled "How Robots Could Change Our View of the Human," on April 23, because it overlapped with a higher-priority talk for me. The accompanying slides tell much of the story of today's talk. Ontologically, robots can be described as tools (mere machines) or more than machines. Psychologically, we can view them as tools/machines or see them as more than machines. This dichotomy creates a four-way categorization, shown in one of the slides. Today's talk was concerned with the quadrant in which robots are described as machines but are seen as more than machines. In other words, Professor Prescott is of the opinion that even though robots are machines, we can become attached to them and to learn to view them as companions or helpers. Consider for example a bomb-disposal robot, used during the Iraq war, which saved many lives and was honored with a 21-gun salute and a Purple Heart Medal when it "died." Experiments have shown that people get upset when they see a robot being abused. Currently, loneliness is a major epidemic in our world, a condition that is known to contribute to increased mortality rate. Robots can help alleviate this condition, given that we are quite open to viewing robots as companions or even friends. Many people give their robots names, even if the robot is a mere vacuum cleaner. Having a companion robot essentially serves the same purpose as having a companion pet animal. Given the prominent role of robots in future societies, many groups are working on establishing guidelines and setting limits on what is or isn't appropriate. A notable example arises in the case of sex robots, when we veer into the domain of child sex. I enjoyed this talk immensely!

2018/04/28 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The first ever issue of Vogue magazine, 1892 Vintage soda-can designs J. R. R. Tolkien's original first page for 'Lord of the Rings,' 1937 (1) History in pictures: [Left] The first ever issue of Vogue magazine, 1892. [Center] Vintage soda-can designs. [Right] J. R. R. Tolkien's original first page for Lord of the Rings, 1937.
(2) Trump has hurt the North American bid to host the 2026 World Cup soccer tournament in Canada, Mexico, and the US: By threatening countries that vote against the bid, he violated FIFA's rules against political interference. It is soccer federations that vote, not countries, so the threat doesn't even make sense.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Bill Cosby has been convicted of indecent assault. Which makes me wonder: What is decent assault?
- James Comey is hated by Clinton and Trump supporters alike. So, who is buying his best-selling book?
- On music: "Music is art that goes through the ears straight to the heart." ~ Anonymous
- Titanic, in the age of modern, single women. [Image]
- Cartoon of the day: The fourth "R": Readin', 'Ritin', 'Rithmetic, Returnin' fire. {Image]
- Today, Santa Barbara celebrated 236 years of history by reenacting its Founding Ceremony of 1782.
Cover image for Carly Simon's 'Boys in the Trees' (4) Book review: Simon, Carly, Boys in the Trees: A Memoir, unabridged audiobook, read by the author, Macmillan Audio, 2015.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This is one of the most honest and charming memoirs I have read in a long time. Simon discusses both her professional life and personal challenges, including her stuttering, flings with several rock/movie stars, and her difficult marriage to James Taylor, another music giant of the 1970s. Simon and Taylor were part of the drug culture of the 1960s, but they were eventually able to kick the habit.
The blurb on the back of the CD box describes Simon as "rock star, poet, feminist icon, seductress, survivor," and we see why she deserves all these accolades as she takes us along for a journey from her childhood to the present.
The rock-star part is best known, given her memorable songs and her powerful, husky voice. The poet part manifests itself not just in her song lyrics, but also in the lyrical, absorbing prose of this book. The feminist-icon part is the weakest characterization (more on this later). The seductress part shows up in the form of several famous rock/movie stars who pursued her; the list includes Warren Beatty, Mick Jagger, and, of course, her husband of 11 years, James Taylor.
The survivor part is really the most telling aspect of this memoir. Simon struggled with depression, which included anxiety attacks and self-destructive behavior. Despite her stunning looks and musical talent, Simon suffered from self-doubt and considered herself more suitable to serving and satisfying men. Yet she transformed herself into a feminist icon later in life. She seemingly fell for any man who showed some interest in her. She felt attracted to other men, even after she married James Taylor, whom she loved deeply, but she says she did not act on the urges.
The audiobook includes original music, specially composed for the audio program. In my opinion, the music distracts more from the audiobook's charm than add to it, although the parts where Simon sings fragments of her own songs, with lyrics that are related to the points she is making, do add value.

2018/04/27 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Banff, Alberta, Canada, 1962 (photo by Walter Reed) Building of the Atomium in Brussels for the 1958 World Fair (phot by Dolf Kruger) NYC water fountain, 1930s (1) History in pictures: [Left] Banff, Alberta, Canada, 1962 (photo by Walter Reed). [Center] Building of the Atomium in Brussels for the 1958 World Fair (phot by Dolf Kruger). [Right] NYC water fountain, 1930s.
(2) Quote of the day: "Every man is dishonest who lives upon the labor of others, no matter if he occupies a throne." ~ Robert G. Ingersoll
(3) She persisted: Honoring the woman who tirelessly pursued the just-captured "Golden State" killer and wrote a book about the horrible mass-murderer and mass-rapist, but did not live to see him captured.
(4) Ethical and law-enforcement implications of ancestry DNA analysis: In what appears to be a first in the US, "The Golden State" killer was caught by having his DNA samples matched against databases of ancestry DNA analysis companies, which led to the identification of a few relatives. This is a breakthrough and also quite scary in terms of its ethical and privacy implications. I hope we see some open discussion on these issues.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Historic accord between North Korea and South Korea officially ends the 65-year Korean War.
- Merkel endured Trump's rants during a joint news conference, but her facial expressions screamed "OMG"!
- Japan builds hundreds of miles of concrete seawalls to protect coastal areas against tsunamis.
- Cartoon of the day: The president's just-us system. [Image]
- Joke of the day: Representative Luke Messer believes Trump should be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.
- A humorous Persian song from a couple of decades ago about how money reigns supreme in our lives.
- Persian music: Marzieh in concert. This may have been her last live performance. [5-minute video]
(6) Chief-of-Staff John Kelly will be removed as soon as the White House can find him a suitable position that won't embarrass him: Perhaps Veterans Affairs?
(7) Change of guards: Is Emmanuel Macron taking the European leadership staff away from Angela Merkel because a misogynistic Donald Trump likes him better? [Illustration]
(8) Mariachi Aztlan: The highly-skilled and talented University of Texas student group performed in a free concert at Goleta's Isla Vista School this evening. Recording was disallowed, so I post a few photos and some music samples from YouTube. [Playlist] [With Ballet Folklorico] [At Chicago's 2017 Mariachi Festival] Walking back from the concert, I snapped these photos of the nearly-full moon and a planet (Mars?).
(9) Final thoughs for the day: "Money is what you'd get on beautifully without if only other people weren't so crazy about it." ~ Margaret Case Harriman

2018/04/26 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Race of double-decker buses, 1933 Delivering bread in the Irish Civil War, 1920s Women window cleaners, London, 1917 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Race of double-decker buses, 1933. [Center] Delivering bread in the Irish Civil War, 1920s. [Right] Women window cleaners, London, 1917.
(2) Rare photos of an osprey carrying a baby shark, snatched by the bird while it was eating a fish. As a Persian saying goes, "Above each hand, there are many hands."
(3) Quote of the day: "We can choose isolationism, withdrawal and nationalism. This is an option. It can be tempting to us as a temporary remedy to our fears ... But closing the door to the world will not stop the evolution of the world. It will not douse but inflame the fears of our citizens." ~ French President Emmanuel Macron, attacking Trumpism, a day after he and Trump hugged, kissed, held hands, and awkwardly touched each other during a news briefing
(4) Former police officer identified as "The Golden State Killer" and arrested for 40 years of criminal activity, including at least 12 murders and dozens of rapes. A 37-year-old cold double-murder case in my hometown of Goleta, California, is tied by DNA evidence to the captured ex-cop.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is courting American red-necks with this full-page ad in today's Los Angeles Times.
- Eighty-year-old US comedian Bill Cosby's retrial for sexual assault leads to a guilty verdict.
- The wedding season is upon us, according to Santa Barbara Independent! [Images]
- Food tips: Vegetarian mini-pizzas on English muffins; Mixed-greens salad, preparation and result.
- Patriarchy: Age difference of 24 years accepted in the bottom photo but ridiculed in the top one. [Photos]
- Cartoon of the day: "How do you get your child to read books?" [Image]
(6) Time magazine headline: "The Toronto van attack suspect was obsessed with rejection from women. He is not alone among violent men." [Members of the group call themselves "incel," for "involuntarily celibate"]
(7) "Innocent people don't take the Fifth": A compilation of Trump's musings about pleading the Fifth, in the wake of his personal attorney Michael Cohen's exercising this right in the porn actress Stormy Daniels case.
(8) For Persian-speaking readers: An informative essay by Dr. Shokoufeh Taghi about "shah" and many other words used in Persian to refer to the head of state over the centuries, and how some of them found their ways into European languages. Comments on the original Facebook post also contain valuable information.
(9) A final thought: "The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge." ~ Bertrand Russell

2018/04/24 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Flyer for the screening of 'I, Tonya' at UCSB (1) "Script to Screen" program at UCSB's Pollock Theater: Tonight, I attended a screening of the gripping 2017 mockumentary film "I, Tonya." The story, told from the vantage points of several characters, including Harding herself and her abusive husband, happens over four decades, covering figure-skater Tonya Harding's childhood to the present. Margot Robbie, who also co-produced, is magnificent as Tonya, but the film really belongs to Allison Janney, who won a supporting-actress Oscar for portraying Tonya's cruel and abusive mother. The screening was followed by a fascinating discussion with scriptwriter/producer Steven Rogers, who described the film's development, beginning with the initial interviews. He characterized Harding as a poor girl, who had a foul mouth and was unapologetically red-neck. She was at a disadvantage, given the figure-skating world's preference for well-behaved, all-American girls, with supportive families. Her guilt in "the incident" may have been limited, but she never owned up to or apologized for her actions. Rogers wrote the role of Tonya's mother specifically for Janney, which turned out to be an excellent choice. [Images]
(2) Walking towards Pollock Theater for the screening of "I, Tonya," I took a few photos. The UCSB campus is covered with ads for the upcoming student-government elections and, in one part of the lawn to the north of Storke Tower, with reminders of the Armenian genocide.
(3) New Yorker article from December 2017: "Trump appeared at the [civil rights] museum, where he told an invitation-only audience that Martin Luther King, Jr., had been a personal inspiration, just a day after attending a rally, in Florida, where he again endorsed a candidate for the U.S. Senate who thinks that Muslims should not be allowed to serve in Congress, and who recently told an African-American man that America had been 'great' during slavery."
(4) List of children's TV programs in Ghom (humor): There have been suggestions that the city of Ghom, a center of religion and religious studies near Tehran, Iran, should be made into a sovereign country, a la the Vatican. This meme imagines what that new country's children might see on television.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Change of heart: "The little rocket man" is now deemed "very open" and "very honorable"!
- Many more Southwest flights are cancelled, as engine inspections continue.
- Mummified body found near a burial site ordered razed in 1979 Iran is believed to be that of Reza Shah.
- Amazon to deliver packages to car trunks: Next comes delivery of edibles directly to your mouth!
- Quote of the day: "Anger is a wind which blows out the lamp of mind." ~ Robert G. Ingersoll
- Dolores Leis Antelo, a Trump look-alike, lives in Nanton, La Coruna, northeastern Spain.
- You have seen birds diving to catch fish: Now watch fish rising to hunt birds.
- Robotic chefs are on the way: Sony and Carnegie Mellon University partner to develop cooking robots.
- Borowitz Report: "Bezos says that when pee tape is released, it will be free for all Amazon Prime members."
- Seth Meyer's "Closer Look" at the legal troubles facing Trump and his allies and appointees.
(6) The Toronto mass killer, who drove a van into a crowd of pedestrians, is linked to the Santa Barbara (Isla Vista) mass shooter, who in 2014 killed 6, and appears to have the same misogynistic tendencies.
(7) Book intro: I disagree with law Professor Alan Dershowitz on many issues but find the title of his new book, Trumped Up: How Criminalization of Political Differences Endangers Democracy, refreshing and timely.
(8) [Final thought for the day] Trump's 35% support base: The top 1% or so, who are raking money from tax breaks and laxer regulations, and the ~34% who believe the con-man's promises that after some hardships, they will be much better off.

2018/04/23 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Damascus, Syria, 1940 Gold diggers on the way to Dawson City, 1890s Street styles, 1940s (1) History in pictures: [Left] Damascus, Syria, 1940. [Center] Gold diggers on the way to Dawson City, 1890s. [Right] Street styles, 1940s.
(2) We closed this year's Earth Day, yesterday, with some sober thoughts: Mother Earth is again under siege, after decades of progress in making sure our children enjoy the benefits of clean air and water and can experience the wonders of nature first-hand. Happy Earth Day, and happy activism to protect Mother Earth from shortsighted politicians and businessmen!
(3) Quote of the day: "We go on multiplying our conveniences only to multiply our cares. We increase our possessions only to the enlargement of our anxieties." ~ Anna C. Brackett
(4) Why are some people so excited about North Korea saying it will stop nuclear testing? They offer no promises about stopping nuclear development or missiles development/testing! Stopping nuclear testing means they are already confident about the bomb part of their system working.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- My speech at my uncle Nourollan (Nouri) Parhami's memorial gathering of yesterday. [Image]
- Some "fine" Neo-Nazis with a glittering swastika, celebrated Hitler's birthday in Georgia. [Daily Mail images]
- Van intentionally plows into pedestrians, killing 10 and injuring 15 in Toronto, Canada.
- Cartoon of the day: The President's legal team arrives at the White House. [Image]
- The fourth-grader in the White House is every English teacher's nightmare. HERE IS WHY.
(6) Sean Hannity, a staunch anti-welfare commentator, has been a major beneficiary of HUD mortgage-loan guarantees, a form of government handout.
(7) Armenian prime minister resigns after protests against his illegal power grab: He was appointed PM after serving two five-year terms as president.
(8) "Data Management on Non-Volatile Memory": This was the title of a UCSB talk this afternoon by Joy Arulraj of CMU. In a case of embarrassment of riches, I had to forego attending another interesting talk entitled "How Robots Could Change Our View of the Human" by Tony Prescott, which overlapped with the first one. Emerging non-volatile memory (NVM) technologies are revolutionizing data storage and processing, because they do not lose data when the power source is disrupted. They sit between DRAM and mass storage in terns of speed and cost, making it possible to imagine structurally and logically much simpler systems that use only one kind of memory, rather than a hierarchy of different kinds. NVMs invalidate all major assumptions in the design of current database management systems, which include a great deal of complexity to bridge the gap between DRAM's high speed, high cost, and volatility and disk/SSD's high latency, low cost, and permanence. Adapting existing systems to the availability of non-volatile memory, while possible and offering some benefits, does not fully exploit the strengths of the new technologies, thus pointing the way to complete redesign of database management systems from scratch. Mr. Aluraj discussed some of his work on designing and evaluating DBMSs that take advantage of emerging NVM technologies, particularly the ones being developed by Intel. [Slides]

2018/04/21 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Santa Barbara Earth Day logo (1) Santa Barbara Earth Day Festival: Held over the 4/21-22 weekend at Alameda Park, this year's event is more extensive than usual. In particular, the green vehicles exhibit has many more entries. [11 photos]
Many environmental activists and organizations are present at the festival, with exhibits such as bike-powered smoothie machine, informational posters, sign-up sheets, and a sponsored talent stage. [11 photos]
The festival also features food, drinks, and recreational activities. [12 photos] [Bonus photo of a church across the street from Alameda Park]
(2) Quote of the day: "Religion's domination over science and thought in Iran is reminiscent of the Middle Ages." ~ Narges Mohammadi, recipient of APS's 2018 Andrei Sakharov Prize [Award image]
(3) The story of Elizabeth Holmes: She dropped out of Stanford to found Theranos based on new blood-testing technology and became the youngest female self-made billionaire, before her company crashed due to inaccurate test results.
(4) A thoughtful review of James Comey's blockbuster book, A Higher Loyalty: Former Clinton aide Jennifer Palmieri praises Comey's character, but is puzzled by his inconsistent justifications for actions he took during the 2016 election, arising from his unwillingness to explicitly own up to helping Trump win.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Advice to people living in the US: Don't eat any romaine lettuce until further notice.
- Trump attacks Comey in series of typo-ridden tweets, referring to Mueller as "Special Council." [Images]
- A solo Melania Trump is all smiles at the funeral of former First Lady/Mom Barbara Bush.
- Rudy Giuliani may be a witness in the Russia probe, complicating his role as a Trump attorney.
- Actress who belongs to a shady self-help group for women is charged with sex trafficking.
- In Iran, workplace safety is taken very seriously. [Funny photo]
- The Kamkar family matriarch with 4 of her 8 children, all of whom are accomplished artists. [Photo]
- Q: What do the top three best-selling books of 2018 (so far) have in common? A: They are all about Trump.
- Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia are Middle East's top three countries for executions. [Cartoon from Iranwire]
- Jane Fonda is perhaps not a perfect role model, but here she gives some sage advice. [3-minute video]
- Were we humans the first civilization on Earth? Will we be the last?
- There is no such thing as a bad emotion: All emotions are natural parts of life. [2-minute video]
(6) Humor: Mark Zuckerberg cannot easily analyze Facebook likes by Iranian users and sell the resulting information. Likes by Iranians can have many different meanings, besides actual approval of the content. We like friends' posts, whether or not we agree with the content. We like posts by lonely individuals who otherwise don't garner any likes. We like comments by warring parties to stoke the fire of discord. We like posts by beautiful women, without bothering to read them. [2-minute video]
(7) Santa Barbara Public Market: Established several years ago in the space formerly occupied by a Vons supermarket to the south of Arlington Theater, the market hosts a collection of quaint cafes, bakeries, snack shops, and bars. [6 photos]

2018/04/20 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Manhattan telephone wires, 1887 A DC-4 passenger plane flying over midtown Manhattan, 1939 New York City rush hour, 1909 (1) Historical photos of New York City: [Left] Manhattan telephone wires, 1887. [Center] A DC-4 passenger plane flying over midtown Manhattan, 1939. [Right] New York City rush hour, 1909.
(2) The Democrats file a lawsuit against the Trump campaign, Russia, and Wikileaks for conspiracy to damage the Clinton campaign: Several top Trump officials, current and former, are named in the lawsuit.
(3) Here's a liar who seems to think he's living in the Middle Ages, when there was no record of one's prior musings. Donald Trump, in 2014: "If I decide to run for office, I'll produce my tax returns, absolutely, and I would love to do that." [Meme]
(4) US State Department issues its annual assessment of human rights in the world. The usual suspects (Russia, China, Syria, Iran, North Korea) are all there, but Saudi Arabia is spared a harsh assessment, despite atrocities in Yemen and at home.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- North Korea indicates that it will suspend nuclear missiles tests and close its nuclear test site.
- Rudy Giuliani is in for major disappointment: He hopes to end the Mueller probe in a week or two.
- The very predictable Trump tweet-storm has begun: Flynn's life destroyed, Comey is getting rich!
- Redacted forms of James Comey's released memos are now available on-line.
- Senator Tammy Duckworth makes history by bringing baby daughter to the Senate floor.
- The time has come to test Michael Cohen's assertion that he would take a bullet for trump!
- Iran's morality police beats up a woman whose hijab does not meet with their approval.
- Cartoon of the day: Enough is enough. [National School Walkout Day] [Image]
(6) Dilbert's pointy-hair boss tries to get on the blockchain bandwagon: "Why can't we 3-D print a blockchain and HTML it into a bitcoin?" [Image]
(7) One more lie exposed: Trump's claim to Comey that he did not spend a night in Moscow during his 2013 trip for the Miss Universe pageant is contradicted by evidence, showing that Trump arrived in Moscow on November 8, 2013, spent the night at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, and didn't leave the city until after the pageant was finished late on the following day.
(8) I am surprised that Michael Cohen walks on the streets nonchalantly and goes to cafes: Trump allies have described him as a "ticking time-bomb," which makes him a target for deranged, gun-totting Trump supporters.
(9) This is how I will spend part of tomorrow in downtown, Santa Barbara: Earth Day Festival, Saturday and Sunday, April 21-22, 2018, starting at 11:00 AM, Alameda Park.

2018/04/19 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
A 19-year-old Grace Kelly, 1949 A 16-year-old Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale, holding Toto, 1939 An 18-year-old Robin Williams as a high school senior, 1969 (1) History in pictures: [Left] A 19-year-old Grace Kelly, 1949. [Center] A 16-year-old Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale, holding Toto, 1939. [Right] An 18-year-old Robin Williams as a high school senior, 1969.
(2) Brilliant comedy: Trevor Noah likens Sean Hannity's explanation of his relationship with Michael Cohen to quickly-recited disclaimers and lists of side effects in pharmaceutical ads.
(3) Recommended reading for Melania Trump: Author Catenya McHenry's Married to a Narcissist: Enduring the Struggle and Finding You Again [Self-published on Amazon]
(4) The Southwest Airlines plane that suffered an engine fire was piloted by a female former navy fighter pilot, whose nerves of steel are credited with the safe landing.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Cuba without a Castro: A revolutionary dynasty ends with Raul Castro deciding to step down.
- Trump is not attacking Comey for what he has written but for what he knows and cannot disclose now.
- Trump has remained silent on Barbara Bush's passing, but his attack dogs are doing his bidding for him.
- Another deranged right-winger: Alex Jones calls the Sandy Hook massacre a hoax.
- Puerto Rico plunges into darkness in its worst blackout since Hurricane Maria.
- Some Airbus planes are being fitted with bunk beds, like those on sleeper trains, in their cargo holds.
- One of the 9/11 planners, a Syrian-born German citizen, has been arrested by the Kurds in Syria.
- Experiencing a dry early spring: April showers seem to have been rescheduled for May in my SoCal area!
(6) Recycled quote of the day (fron 8 years ago): "Art for the sake of truth, for the sake of what is beautiful and good—that is the creed I seek." ~ George Sand [pseudonym of Amantine Aurore Lucile Dupin, 1804-1876, the first French female novelist to gain a major reputation]
(7) Who are these people? Ted Cruz offers effusive praise to a man who called his dad a criminal, his wife ugly, and him an adulterer.
(8) Sean Hannity in the spotlight: Tabloids and other media are having a field day with the self-righteous Sean Hannity over his lack of transparency. [Front page of Daily News]
(9) Final thought for the day: If you suggest improvements to arrogant or self-doubting people, you will only create enemies for yourself. Make suggestions for improvement to humble, self-confident people, and you will gain lifelong friends.

2018/04/17 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Photo of T-shirt: Octopi Photo of T-shirt: Intelligence defined Photo of T-shirt: Why I became a professor (1) Nerdy T-shirt designs: [Left] Octopi [Center] Intelligence defined. [Right] Why I became a professor.
(2) Do you constantly complain about leg room on airplanes? Well, that issue may disappear, as you will be essentially standing during your flight! Airlines are experimenting with "saddle seats" to cram more passengers in economy. Next, will come hooks to hang you from the cabin ceiling, as in slaughterhouses!
(3) Use of fur in fashion may be ending soon: Activists have increased awareness, and advances in materials research are providing many ethical alternatives to fur.
(4) Our planet contains diamonds from a lost planet of the early Solar System: Terrestrial planets of the early solar system (Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars) were formed by gradual merger of many proto-planets, ranging in size from as small as our moon to as big as Mars, in a series of high-energy impacts. An 80-ton asteroid, which exploded upon entering the Earth's atmosphere in 2008, showering our planet with hundreds of small meteorites, brought us some material from those proto-planets.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Barbara Pierce Bush [1925-2018]: Former First Lady and First Mom. RIP.
- Cal Poly's entire Greek life has been suspended following acts of racial insensitivity at Lambda Chi Alpha.
- Israeli intelligence takes issue with Trump's characterization of the Syria air attack as a success.
- Sketch of the man Stormy Daniels says threatened her is released and $100K reward announced.
(6) Donald Trump and Japan's Shinzo Abe will try to forget about scandals at home, when they meet at Mar-a-Lago: Meanwhile, aides are reportedly worried about Trump watching too much TV and tweeting while at Mar-a-Lago for 5 days, necessitating much clean-up duties.
(7) Trump campaign funds were used to pay legal fees for Trump, Michael Cohen, Donald Trump Jr., and former bodyguard Keith Schiller. In all, 20% of the campaign's funds were spent on legal fees, parts of which have raised eyebrows.
(8) On environmental impacts of Santa Barbara's Thomas Fire: Today's UCSB Library lecture in the Pacific Views series, "Oceanography in the Thomas Fire: Preliminary Results from a Graduate Student Led Expedition Aboard R/V Sally Ride," featured graduate students Kelsey Bisson (Geography) and Eleanor Arrington (Earth Science), who reviewed the impact of massive amounts of ash entering the ocean after the largest fire in California's history. A previously-planned expedition, for which they had done extensive fund-raising to pay for the vessel and research equipment, took on a new meaning when Thomas Fire broke out and provided them with an opportunity to track the effects of ash in real time. Ash which is directly deposited on the ocean is different from ash that is carried to the ocean by freshwater flow. The study reported in this talk helps us understand the difference. These photos show the speakers and parts of their story, as reflected in several of the presentation slides. Follow-up studies are needed to determine the longer-term effects. One interesting anecdote from the talk was the observation that on world maps, we often see differences between various types of land, such as deserts, mountains, green plains, and so on, while oceans are usually depicted as featureless blue areas. This 3-minute NASA video, which was shown by the speakers, impresses upon us the fact that oceans are alive and constantly evolving, aided by numerous currents.
(9) "Drop Dead Gorgeous": This is the title of a 1999 comedy film which was screened tonight at Pollock Theater as part of UCSB's spring quarter "Women in Comedy" series. Upon its release, the film was a flop, both financially and critically, but has since become a cult classic. Some of the antics (such as people literally dropping dead of various causes) and politically incorrect humor in this mocumentary about a beauty pageant in a small Minnesota town are frowned upon today. The screening was followed by a discussion between moderator Patrice Petro (Professor of Film and Media Studies) and Mindy Sterling (one of the film's stars and best known for portraying the Nazi lady in the Austin Powers films). The film's cast (see one of these images) includes both established pros and young actresses who went on to become major movie stars.

2018/04/16 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Flower grows undisturbed, after volcanic eruption covers everything with ash Cherry blossoms, across from Jefferson Memorial, Washington, DC Super-colorful grapes (1) The amazing nature: [Left] Flower grows undisturbed, after volcanic eruption covers everything with ash. [Center] Cherry blossoms, across from Jefferson Memorial, Washington, DC. [Right] Super-colorful grapes.
(2) A photo by Iranian photographer Ahmad Nateghi and the bronze statue based on it document Saddam Hussein's chemical attack against Iraqi Kurds in Halabja on March 16, 1988, during the closing days of the Iran-Iraq war. [Images and Persian post]
(3) Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller, as Special Counsel Robert Mueller and Trump attorney Michael Cohen, revived an iconic scene from "Meet the Parents" for their SNL cold-open sketch last night.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Comey may have called Trump "morally unfit" to lead, but RNC Chairwoman sees him as a moral leader.
- Effects of Trump tweets on Boeing and Amazon stock prices were temporary. [Source: Time magazine]
- Barbara Bush, 92, is seriously ill, but she has decided against seeking further treatments.
- A Chinese baby is born from a frozen embryo, four years after his parents died.
- A 45-m asteroid came alarmingly close to Earth (less than 200,000 km) only hours after it was spotted.
- Anon. quote: "When you're happy, you enjoy the music, but when you're sad, you understand the lyrics."
(5) This largest-ever Lego replica of Titanic contains 56,000 Lego pieces and was built in 700 hours, over 11 months, by a 10-year-old boy from Reykjavik, Iceland, who is on the autism spectrum.
(6) New developments in the Michael Cohen case: Trump was denied the right to view seized documents and to decide what should be protected under the attorney-client privilege. Meanwhile, Sean Hannity of Fox News was revealed to be a client of Cohen.
(7) Quote of the day (from today's UCSB lecture, described in the next entry): "As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being." ~ Carl Jung
(8) "Understanding the Brain by Building Robots": This was the title of an interesting talk this afternoon by Tony Prescott (Professor of Cognitive Robotics, U. Sheffield), who does both state-of-the-art research and writes pieces of general interest about artificial intelligence and robotics for "The Conversation."
Prescott will give two more lectures, while at UCSB as a Fellow of Sage Center for the Study of the Mind.
- Monday, April 23, 4:00 PM, Psych 1312: "How Robots Could Change Our View of the Human"
- Monday, April 30, 4:00 PM, Psych 1312: "Are Friends Electric? Our Future Lives with Robots and AI"
Professor Prescott described his area of research as "synthetic psychology," where theories are developed and verified by building actual systems. His career choice was influenced by two books he read as a young man: Jung's Memories, Dreams, Reflections and Braitenberg's Vehicles: Experiments in Synthetic Psychology.
In today's lecture, Prescott described his work on robotics, including robotic rats he helped build and experiments performed by various teams on how whiskers are used for sensing. Here are two links if you are curious about the subject. In the first one, a 6-minute video, Prescott describes his research on robotics and rat whiskers. The second one, an article about the machanics of whiskers, which includes a 6-minute video, describes research on rat whiskers from another research team. [A few slides from the talk]

2018/04/15 (Sunday): To make a dent in my backlog of book reviews, I present two of them today.
Cover image for Michel Wolff's 'Fire and Fury' (1) Book review: Wolff, Micheal, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Holter Graham, Macmillan Audio, 2017.
[My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This book has been criticized for its gossipy tone and inaccuracies. In fact, I found it quite enlightening and, having listened to it with a dose of skepticism, came away with a clearer understanding of the current US administration's mode of operation. The early chapters sounded quite convincing, while the chapters near the end (culminating in the firing of Steve Bannon) came across as more cavalier, perhaps because Wolff had begun losing his access to key players by then.
The early Trump White House was divided into several competing camps. Establishment Republicans were represented by Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer. Right-wing Tea-Party types had Steve Bannon and Steve Miller. Liberals were in the Kushner-Ivanka orbit. Intelligence pragmatists were represented by H. R. McMaster and James Mattis (who was instrumental in the firing of Michael Flynn, despite Trump's own intuition to the contrary). And Trump played these camps against one another, giving each the illusion that they had his ears, aided by yes-men/women such as Hope Hicks, who hid much negative press from him or interpreted the stories in the most benevolent manner possible.
Wolff's characterization of Trump as a conflicted man is also spot-on: He distrusts reporters, while craving attention from them. He wants to be seen as a tough man, who always comes out swinging, yet wanting to be liked and admired. He wants to be viewed as a family man who is proud of his children, and yet does not want to invest any personal resource other than money in raising them. A racist and anti-semite at heart, believing in the superiority of European genes, he also wants to avoid alienating the Jews and others around him.
This book does not rise to the level of Trump Revealed: An American Journey of Ambition, Ego, Money, and Power, by Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher (see my 4-star review on GoodReads), but it has its own charms and insights. Inaccurate and hyped-up statements are there to be sure, yet the book is a good read still.
Cover image of 'Meditation for the Fidgety Skeptic' (2) Book review: Harris, Dan (with Jeff Warren and Carlyle Adler), Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by the author, Random House Audio, 2017. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This is a companion volume to Dan Harris's first book on meditation, 10% Happier, which I reviewed on December 27, 2017, in this blog and on GoodReads.
Early in his career, Harris, an ABC News reporter (with stints on "Nightline," "Good Morning America," and weekend evening news), struggled with self-confidence issues and anxiety attacks, which drove him to drug and alcohol abuse. Subsequently, he discovered that meditation helped him tame the voice in his head that "made [him] behave like a jerk," in his own words.
This new book is a how-to manual and also tells the story of a cross-country quest by Harris and his Canadian friend Jeff Warren, whom he characterizes as "Meditation McGyver," to tackle the myths causing many to conclude that meditation isn't for them. Harris and Warren interacted with diverse groups of people during their trek across 18 states, both teaching their subjects life-changing meditation skills and, in the process, learning a lot from them.
One key reason people do not meditate, or give up soon after starting the practice, is that they aim too high and become disillusioned when they cannot achieve their lofty goals. Harris suggests that you aim very low at the outset, perhaps beginning with as little as a couple of minutes per day, and building up to a level that suits your own needs and schedule, as well as those of the people around you.
Another take-away is that meditation and mindfulness do not have to be practiced while sitting motionless in a quiet environment; it is possible to meditate while you walk or run, if you focus on the moment (e.g., concentrate on the bottom of your feet touching the ground or some other aspect of your physical body), rather than planning your day, listening to music, or day-dreaming.
Throughout, Harris emphasizes that the benefits of meditation and mindfulness have been proven scienfically, citing the results of various research studies and testimonials from people in all walks of life. I found the arguments convincing and the practical suggestions in the book quite useful. You might say that I am no longer a fidgety skeptic!

2018/04/14 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Big Buddha statue in Lantau, Hong Kong London's Natural History Museum Temple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Barcelona (1) History in pictures: [Left] Big Buddha statue in Lantau, Hong Kong. [Center] London's Natural History Museum. [Right] Temple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Barcelona.
(2) Russia puzzle pieces are falling into place: Mueller reportedly has evidence that Trump attorney Michael Cohen lied about never having travelled to Prague; the Steele dossier claimed Cohen met a Russian there.
(3) Dictionary Web sites see huge spikes in on-line searches for "slimeball": Trump does have the best words, after all! The rarely-used "kakistocracy," which appeared in a tweet by former CIA Director Brennan, is also looked up by many.
(4) California toy mogul Isaac Larian has submitted a $675M bid to buy 274 Toys R Us stores in the US and another $215M for 82 stores in Canada. He views each Toys R Us store as a neighborhood mini-Disneyland, which is worth saving.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Massive recall of eggs in nine US states due to salmonella contamination fears.
- Cover image of Time magazine, issue of April 23, 2018: It's Stormy in Trumpland! [Image]
- BFFs or a marriage of convenience? UN rejects Russia's resolution to condemn air-strikes on Syria.
- The average American's debt peaks at $134K at ages 35-54 and then drops steadily, reaching $35K at 75+.
- Batman, before he had enough money to buy himself a fancy bat mobile! [Photo]
- The notion of race is made up and has no scientific basis: Special issue of National Geographic on race.
(6) Quote of the day: "If religious instruction were not allowed until the child had attained the age of reason, we would be living in a quite different world." ~ Christopher Hitchens
(7) Goooooal! on Twitter: Soccer lovers may be pleased to learn that Twitter will be broadcasting one MLS soccer match every week, with the first one (CHI v. LA) occurring today at 12:50 PM PT (3:50 PM ET).
(8) Engineering ethics: [The following is adapted from a comment I made on a friend's Facebook post that offered a defense of FB in light of ongoing criticisms about privacy issues, citing many wonderful connections he had made through FB and the joys they had brought him.] For many years now, nearly all engineering and computer science programs in the US have had an ethics requirement, typically satisfied through an upper-division required course. This puts typical college-drop-out entrepreneurs at a disadvantage, because they most often drop out before taking the course. When you build a system that touches people's lives, you have to step very carefully and avoid the rush to getting there first and to reap the financial rewards of market dominance. Facebook certainly affects people's lives much much more than even the most-crossed highway bridge or the tallest skyscraper, whose designers would be subject to ethical and regulatory oversight. Granted, a single course is unlikely to turn an unethical person into an ethical one, but just being exposed to the notions of ethical engineering practice does make a difference.

2018/04/13 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Casual Friday the 13th ('Off the Mark' cartoon, by Mark Parisi) Cartoon: 'Bring me your steel (25% tariff), aluminum (10% tariff), EU cars (5% tariff)' Cartoon: 'The ringing in your ears: I think I can help' (1) Cartoons: [Left] Casual Friday the 13th ("Off the Mark," by Mark Parisi). [Center] "Bring me your steel (25% tariff), aluminum (10% tariff), EU cars (5% tariff)." [Right] "The ringing in your ears: I think I can help."
(2) Automakers may come to regret push for laxer emission targets: If EPA grants their wish, possibly going even further in regulation rollbacks, California and other states may revolt by setting their own emission standards, forcing automakers to build different cars for different markets, thus increasing production costs.
(3) Similarities of today's turmoil with Nixon days keep increasing: Michael Cohen apparently liked to tape his conversations, causing serious worries among Trump allies after the raids on Cohen's office and home.
(4) Trump pardons Scooter Libby, former VP Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff, who was convicted for lying to FBI in 2007: Some believe he is sending a signal to his allies that they will be pardoned if they stand by him.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Syria's chemical-weapons research and storage facilities hit by the US, Britain, and France.
- Another 'family values' politician accused of sexual misconduct: Governor Eric Greitens is urged to resign.
- The Trump-Comey war escalates, after Comey calls Trump a mafia-esque leader who is untethered to truth.
- California company aims to build a solar farm with a battery 3 times as large as Tesla's current-largest.
- Coverage of Iranian women's "White Wednesdays" initiative against mandatory hijab on the world stage.
- Iran censors the logo of Italy's Roma soccer team, which features an ancient she-wolf. [From: Iranwire]
- UNESCO includes traditional dolls of Tajmir, a village in South Khorasan, on its artisanal register.
- Children's rights advocates criticize an Iranian TV show for its portrayal of child marriage.
- Iran tries to enforce an official exchange rate for rial, as the currency's value sinks to new lows.
- So true for many of us on Facebook: Profile picture versus real life! [Photos]
- Top 50 most-popular TED talks: Presented in 50 slides, with notes.
- Sights of Yerevan, Armenia (150-page PDF tourist guide).
- Book introduction, through a friend's review (Los Angeles Review of Books): Negar Djavadi's "Disoriental"
(6) Gubernatorial challenger Cynthia Nixon maintains that time's up for "corporate Democrats," as she mounts a progressive campaign to unseat New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
(7) Kakistocracy: System of government run by the worst, least-qualified, or most unscrupulous citizens. [Word which appeared in a tweet by the former CIA Director John Brennan]
(8) Final thought for the day: You can't shower everyone around you with personal attacks and insults and expect to be treated with due deference and respect.

2018/04/11 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Image of Trump's face inside an apple (1) Adapted from CNN's "this is an apple" ad: Some might try to tell you that this is a president. They might scream "president" over and over again. They might put "PRESIDENT" in all-caps. You might even start to believe that this is a president. But it's not. This is a lying, cheating, narcissistic, tax-evading, amoral real-estate developer.
(2) Quote of the day: "Is it too modern to notice that there is nothing [in the Ten Commandments] about the protection of children from cruelty, nothing about rape, nothing about slavery, and nothing about genocide?" ~ Christopher Hitchens
(3) Word puzzle: What do the following words have in common? [Source: E&T magazine, issue of April 2018]
nuts; responsibility; ironman; jihad; ringfence; miffed; redcoat; macbain
(4) Hedy Lamarr: The April 2018 issue of E&T magazine contains a feature on the glamorous, talented, and great-looking actress who preferred to be remembered as an inventor/scientist. [Images] [On my tweet about this story, commenter Katherine Drew (Assoc. Commissioner, NYC Mayor's Office of Media & Entertainment) pointed to the 2017 documentary film "Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story," which she produced.]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Holocaust survivor likens today's America to Germany between the World Wars, before Nazis took over.
- Full rotation of the Moon, as seen from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. [Video]
- Movement of ocean saltwater caused by tides creates a magnetic field that is mapped for the first time.
- NASA has begun working on the next Mars rover for 2020 launch.
- Yarn-like rechargeable batteries can power future smart fabrics and wearable electronics.
- Riddle: Why is the circle very knowledgeable? Answer: Because it has 360 degrees.
- The non-compliment that sounds like a compliment: You are one in 7 billion!
- Trump's vocabulary is at the 4th-grade level: Here is how he compares with the last 15 US presidents.
(6) UCSB Arts Walk: Much of this collection of free events across the campus overlapped with my class and office hours today. I still managed to catch a few performances and exhibits as I walked home from campus. UCSB Middle East Ensemble performed between Music Department and University Center [2-minute video]. Here are some examples of other events, followed by a photo of the sunset as I arrived home.

2018/04/10 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Elvis and Priscilla about to board a chartered plane after their marriage, 1967 Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, Los Angeles, 1969 Paul Newman and Clint Eastwood, 1972 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Elvis and Priscilla about to board a chartered plane after their marriage, 1967. [Center] Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, Los Angeles, 1969. [Right] Paul Newman and Clint Eastwood, 1972.
(2) Former general responds to Ivanka Trump's tweet about the importance of physical activity and nutrition to children's health.
(3) Walmart, Target, and other retailers have stopped requiring signatures on credit-card slips: New technologies have made such signatures unnecessary and worthless.
(4) Quote of the day: "Trump's lawyer got raided, which means Trump's lawyer's lawyer should probably play it safe and get himself a lawyer." ~ Comedian Stephen Colbert
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Look who's being investigated for bank fraud and campaign finance violations! [Cohen's 2015 tweet]
- Cambridge Analytica accessed not just user profiles but also private messages that FB routinely scanned.
- Extravagant 27-centuries-old gold jewelry pieces were made in Spain, not brought in by Near-Easterners.
- It has cooled off from yesterday's 80s in Goleta, 90s in Santa Barbara: A week of pleasant 70s ahead!
- Ahead of its time: Vertical parking in Chicago, 1936. [Photo]
- Riddle: What costs millions but is nearly worthless? Answer: Second place in an election.
- "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There's no point in being a damn fool." ~ W. C. Fields
(6) Here's Fox News' headline, as Trump plunges into a legal mess of his own making: "Trump Ambushed by Opponents as He Fixes Obama's Foreign Policy Mess." Don't be surprised if he follows the network's advice to fire Mueller and his own Justice Department officials. Government of the rich, for the rich, by Fox News!
(7) Responding to Trump's tweet: The attorney-client privilege is alive and well. What is dead, and has been dead for many decades, is hiding illegal acts behind the privilege.
(8) Iranian physicist, engineer, and human-rights activist Narges Mohammadi, now serving a 16-year term in Tehran's Evin Prison, has been chosen as the recipient of the 2018 Anderi Sakharov Prize by the American Physical Society. The Prize citation reads: "for her leadership in campaigning for peace, justice, and the abolition of the death penalty and for her unwavering efforts to promote the human rights and freedoms of the Iranian people, despite persecution that has forced her to suspend her scientific pursuits and endure lengthy incarceration." [Persian report about the honor]
(9) March for Science: Los Angeles will hold a rally and science expo on Saturday, April 14, 2018, 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM, at Pershing Square. Santa Barbara does not have a separate event this year.

2018/04/09 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Time magazine cover, depicting Saudi prince Mohammad Bin Salman (1) Do you see any charm in this Time magazine cover image of Saudi prince Mohammad Bin Salman to justify the title "Charm Offensive"?
(2) Women making waves: Cindy Hyde-Smith becomes the first woman to represent Mississippi in Congress. Tammy Duckworth becomes the first US Senator to give birth while holding office.
(3) Meme of the day: "Never blame your spouse for his/her faults. Those faults could be the reasons s/he couldn't marry someone better." (These are my own words. The Dalai Lama was busy, but he sent his regards!) [View the Persian version of meme]
(4) Falling out of a Russian plane, shortly after take-off in Yakutak, Russia, was $15 million worth of gold (172 bars, weighing 3.4 tons). [Source: Time magazine, issue of April 2, 2018]
(5) UCSB ranks 24th overall (12th among public universities), 5th (2nd) in materials, and 11th (7th) in chemical engineering, according to the latest US News & World Report ranking of graduate engineering programs.
(6) Quote of the day: "As numb as we have become to the shock and ugh of the Trump presidency, here's one thing we didn't foresee: Stormy Daniels, porn star, director, entrepreneur and fiercely funny tweeter, might just be the woman the resistance needs." ~ Susanna Schrobsdorff, writing in Time magazine, issue of April 9, 2018
(7) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Syrian state news agency reports that missiles have struck an air base in Homs, Syria.
- At least 27, including 23 children aged 4-12, die in India when the bus carrying them plunges 300 feet.
-, a prostitution and sex-trafficking site, has been seized and closed by authorities. [Image]
- #MeToo hits the literature Nobel Prize panel: Three members resign over harassment scandal.
- FBI raids the office of Trump lawyer Michael Cohen on referral from Robert Mueller and seizes documents.
- Paul Ryan will likely retire or be ousted: Republicans are losing record number of seats under his speakership.
- How Fox News is running our country: Sending the military to the US-Mexico border was Fox's idea.
- According to AARP Bulletin, 10% of the ~ $600 billion Medicare expenditures in 2017 was lost to fraud.
- "Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you." ~ Anne Lamott
- Perfectionist's dream: A mathematical possibility but likely unrealizable in practice. [GIF image]
(8) A matter of national honor: The French are distraught over Canada taking top prize in the Camembert category at the 2018 World Championship Cheese Contest. [Source: Time magazine, issue of April 2, 2018]
(9) We had a beautiful summer-like day in Goleta, California, on this Monday, with mid-80s temperatures. Goleta's Devereux Slough continues to be nearly dry. No sign of April showers!

2018/04/08 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image for the book 'Darkest Hour' (1) Book review: McCarten, Anthony, Darkest Hour: How Churchill Brought England Back from the Brink, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by John Lee, Harper Audio, 2017.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Any anthology of great speeches has one entry, if not two or three, from Winston Spencer Churchill. What is remarkable about Churchill is that he wrote three such speeches in the span of four weeks, and he did it by himself, with no help from speech-writers. He was inspired in this remarkable feat by the imminent danger facing England from a potential Nazi invasion. Churchill used his mastery of the English language to craft rousing speeches to rally the people, give them hope, and urge them to fight on.
The history of World War II has been well-documented. British politicians had the habit of keeping meticulous records and diaries, which simplified the historians' job, given multiple contemporaneous accounts to compare. What is special about this atypical WW-II book is its detailed attention to the personal relationships of the main characters and the way in which they tamed their oversize egos to work together to save England during a couple of months in mid-1940.
Churchill came dangerously close to signing a peace treaty with Hitler, facing the heavy decision alone, and he did the right thing at the end. He also flirted with approaching Mussolini to seek his help in crafting a favorable peace agreement. Exposition of Churchill's thought process, as he weighed the benefits of a peace agreement against its perils in terms the entire continent of Europe falling to Nazi Germany, is enlightening.
Churchill was an imperfect person. He drank and smoked heavily and had a history of misjudging events and making wrong decisions. On the whole, however, he emerged as a strong leader and an influential politician, who affected not just the future of England but of Europe and the world. He was helped immensely by two of his political rivals, Neville Chamberlain and Lord Halifax, the three playing musical chairs in occupying positions of power over the years.
Here is an example of personal details one finds in this book. When Churchill convinced his War Cabinet to render assistance to France as it was being invaded by Germany, he thought he should deliver the news to the French PM personally. The Frenchman could not be found at work or at home with his wife. Eventually, he was located at the apartment of his mistress. Churchill wanted another official to be present as well, to hear the news first-hand. He, too, was with his mistress at the time!
Darkest Hour was turned into a movie of the same title in 2017. Gary Oldman won an Oscar and a host of other awards for portraying Winston Churchill in one of the best performances of his acting career.
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- At least 70 have died in the Syrian regime's suspected chemical attack in the Syrian city of Douma.
- Trump lashes out at Bashar al-Assad and his allies Russia and Iran over suspected chemical attack.
- EPA Chief Scott Pruitt is in the cross-hairs of even conservatives, but he is fiercely defended by Trump.
- Modern-day proverbs, according to students is a first-grade class! [List]]
- Quote of the day: "Fear does not prevent death. It prevents life." ~ Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz
- If you are one of those nay-sayers, who thinks there is no such thing as a free lunch, read on!
- Cartoon of the day: Scarecrows being deployed for US-Mexico border security! [Image]
(3) April 8-14 is National Library Week: I will participate in local Goleta celebrations, because I am a major beneficiary of public libraries, whether through the books I borrow to read (most of them come from my local public library, and much of the rest from the UCSB library) or via the items I purchase at their book sales.

2018/04/07 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
A fearless worker standing on the unfinished Golden Gate Bridge, 1935 The first aerial refueling, 1923 Elvis, his father Vernon, and his grandma Minnie Mae, 1959 (1) History in pictures: [Left] A fearless worker standing on the unfinished Golden Gate Bridge, 1935. [Center] The first aerial refueling, 1923. [Right] Elvis, his father Vernon, and his grandma Minnie Mae, 1959.
(2) US Department of Homeland Security is building a database of journalists, bloggers, and news media outlets. Put this development together with Trump's characterization of journalists as enemies of the American people, and the 1984-like fight against the truth jumps right at you.
(3) Tariffs have been going down in the United States for good reasons: You can't run a 21st-century economy with a 19th-century mindset. [Chart, with data from USITC]
(4) Madeleine Albright, author of Fascism: A Warning, and former US Secretary of State, pens a NYT opinion piece which touches on all the dangers of Trump's presidency: "Will We Stop Trump Before It's Too Late?"
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- At least 14 killed in the crash of bus carrying Canadian junior hockey team.
- Delivery truck plows into pedestrians in Muenster, Germany, killing 3 and injuring 20: Driver kills himself.
- Believe it or not, this Boston Globe parody front page, dated April 9, 2017, was published in 2016!
- Bill Mahr hits it out of the ballpark in defending teachers: "#TimesUp meet #PencilsDown"
- Bridal talent: I wonder if the groom can match this! [Video]
- Today is the end of Passover, a relief to Cookie Monster and countless others! [Meme]
(6) Humor-challenged president: Trump will be a no-show at this year's White House Correspondents Dinner, celebrating the First Amendment, for the second year in a row. He will be represented at the head table by Sarah Huckabee Sanders. If they really want him to attend next year, they should change the focus from the First to the Second Amendment!
(7) Trump vs. Bezos: The Tweeter-in-Chief has attacked American corporations before, but never as viciously as his tirades against Amazon, which lost 5% of its value as a result. I hope Amazon shareholders sue him for abuse of power. "Attacking an American corporation as innovative and successful as Amazon seems a strange move for the so-called businessman president. But it's perfectly in keeping with a presidency driven not by a coherent ideology—or even a clear economic agenda, for that matter—but rather by the incoherent ravings of a petty tyrant who is all too willing to jeopardize the nation's economic strength for his own political gain."

2018/04/06 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cell-phone early warning about the latest SoCal quake (1) A group of scientists and some beta-testers of a cell-phone earthquake early-warning system got a 34-second advance notice about yesterday's magnitude-5.3 quake in Southern California. This exciting new technology will be coming to all of us shortly.
(2) For GPUs, it's Huang's Law, not Moore's law: During a 5-year period, when Moore's law predicts a 10-fold performance improvement, graphic processing units have become 25 times faster in general and up to 500 times faster for certain applications.
(3) Statistics and genetics research: UCLA researchers have developed a statistical-analysis software tool that increases the reliability of measuring how strongly genes are expressed in an individual cell.
(4) Honoring the National Poetry Month: "Even people who say: 'Oh, I don't know much about poetry,' they do have a poem that they carry." ~ Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith, in a Time-magazine interview.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Another South Korean leader falls disgracefully: Former President Park sentenced to 24 years in jail.
- The US is sanctioning Putin's son-in-law and 23 others: Will Russia retaliate by sanctioning Kushner?
- Government by the rich for the rich: The median net worth of a US senator/representative is $3.2M/$0.9M.
- Good science needs a safe environment in which researchers can contribute to the best of their abilities.
- Cause of foul smells at UCSB's University Center identified! [UCSB Daily Nexus front page]
- One more round of interesting films, as UCLA celebrates Iranian cinema, April 28 to May 19.
- Every politician we deemed unbearable or crazy now looks pleasant and sane by comparison, even Ah-nold!
- The human version of the "claw machine" for grabbing gift items at arcades is here! [Video]
- Introducing "Going Outside": A revolutionary multi-purpose activity platform for spending your time!
(6) Quote of the day: "It is not easy to protect 1.4 billion people every day. But if Facebook wants to the the home where all those people share their likes and heartbreaks and plans and politics with acquaintances online, it had better try a lot harder." ~ Lisa Eadicicco, writing in Time magazine, issue of April 2, 2018
(7) A French baker was fined $3700 for keeping his shop open every day, in defiance of a law that requires bakeries to close for at least one day of rest each week. [Source: Time magazine, issue of April 2, 2018]
(8) Approaching storm: Weather reports for the weekend are conflicting, ranging from a minor storm, with no danger of flash-floods or mud-flows, to a major storm (atmospheric river) dumping one month's worth of rain in a couple of days. I decided to go for a long walk, given the uncertainty for the weekend. The Devereux Slough has nearly dried up (except for the area closest to the ocean), after it filled to the brim with the last rainstorm. It is extremely windy on the beach, with threatening clouds overhead. [Photos]

2018/04/05 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
California fashions, 1960 Day at the beach, 1920s Buick Flamingo, with rotating front seat, 1961 (1) History in pictures: [Left] California fashions, 1960. [Center] Day at the beach, 1920s. [Right] Buick Flamingo, with rotating front seat, 1961.
(2) A pretty strong jolt hit Goleta, California, around 12:30 PM today: It resulted from a 5.3-magnitude quake near Santa Cruz Island, the strongest SoCal tremor in years. No damages have been reported.
(3) The family of 8, whose SUV fell off a cliff in California, leading to 5 confirmed deaths and 3 missing kids, apparently drove off the cliff at high speed intentionally. The plunge is now being investigated as a crime.
(4) Top-10 most-recognized Chinese words in English-speaking countries: Shaolim (name of a famed temple of martial arts); Yin and yang (philosophical concepts); Yuan (currency); Gugong (Forbidden City); Nihao (hello); Wushu (martial arts); Qi (vital force); Qigong (traditional exercise); Renminbi (currency); Majiang (Mahjong, a four-player game). [Source: Time magazine, issue of April 2, 2018]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Have the Saudis bought out Jared Kushner, Trump's closest adviser?
- California gubernatorial candidate John Chiang proposes drastic tuition cuts at public universities.
- More than 1/3 of US college students don't have enough to eat: The hidden crisis on college campuses.
- Pete Souza is using Obama's photos to troll Trump, as he goes on an anti-Obama tweet-storm.
- The great-again America: A hijab-wearing woman is brutally attacked in a hospital lobby.
- Trump kills DACA, nixes two bipartisan deals and a Senate proposal to reinstate it, then blames Democrats!
- Book introduction: A remarkable memoir by a neuroscientist with an uncompromising will to live. [Image]
- From an opinion piece about bogus journals by Marilyn Dyrud, Prism magazine, March-April 2018. [Image]
- Cartoon of the day: A new title among children's books, "The President and the Porn Star." [Image]
- EPA-updated test-crash dummies: "Can't they remove these restrictive harnesses?" [Cartoon]
(6) A modest suggestion (netiquette pointer): Sending or posting a link with no accompanying description is rude. It assumes that people will click on the link and spend a few minutes reading, listening to, or watching it just because it was shared by you. Some links show up with a description from the source, but even then, it's considerate to say in a few words why you liked it or why you think I'd like it, saving me time if it's about an issue or holds content I don't particularly care about. And brief tags such as "Wow!" or "Must watch!" don't count, as they aren't very informative. A different reason for the courtesy is that scammers often send links to infected Web sites under a real person's name, gleaned from hacked address books or Facebook pages. Seeing your personal description of the link reassures me that you, not a scammer, sent or posted the link.

2018/04/04 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Young Vladimir Putin, 1972 Young Angela Merkel, 1970s Young Donald Trump, 1960s (1) History in pictures (world leaders edition): [Left] Young Vladimir Putin, 1972. [Center] Young Angela Merkel, 1970s. [Right] Young Donald Trump, 1960s.
(2) Yesterday's shooter at YouTube headquarters in San Bruno, Nasim Najafi Aghdam, had complained about and battled against the platform. She injured 3 individuals (Woman, 32, in serious condition; Woman, 27, in fair condition; Man, 36, in critical condition), before taking her own life. Other details about motive will come out soon, but it is quite unfortunate that amidst tragedy and carnage, some members of our society can't hold their misogynistic tendencies in check. On a social-media post about the event, a commenter wrote: "Woman shooter? No wonder she's the only one dead."
(3) Mark My Words: Here is a collection of four poems in the April 2018 issue of Poetry magazine, as my part in honoring the US National Poetry Month [Ilya Kaminsky's "Question"; Kiandra Jimenez's "Halcyon Kitchen"; Terisa Siagatonu's "Atlas"; Paul Tran's "Scientific Method"]. Four Persian Nowruz poems of mine from years past constitute my second contribution to the Poetry MOnth. Higher-res versions of these latter poems, as well as other poems, are available on my poetry page.
(4) Dina Ketabi, a native of Damascus, Syria, has been honored with the 2017 ACM Prize in Computing, for her contributions to wireless networking. Ketabi is the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Professor of Computer Science and Director of the Center for Wireless Networks and Mobile Computing at MIT.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Remembering Martin Luther King Jr., fifty years after his assassination on April 4, 1968. [2-minute video]
- Three former US Army soldiers accused of doing contract killings for an international crime boss.
- The US is bypassed in discussions about Syria's future, thanks to our administration's inept foreign policy.
- Lebanese couple sentenced to death in Kuwait for murdering a Filipina maid and freezing her body.
- Facebook has removed 270 accounts controlled by Internet Research Agency, a Russion troll farm.
- After yesterday's shootings at YouTube, I'm afraid NRA may propose that all software engineers be armed!
- S&P's 10% drop from its peak explains the absence of Trump tweets about the stock market.
- Andrew McCabe's legal-defense fundraiser reached $0.5 million, more than triple its goal, in just a few days.
- Trump's declaration of "Sexual Assault Awareness Month" was a gift of jokes to late-night comedians!
- Graphic humor: The Easter Bunny, standing next to Donald Trump, reacts to his statements. [Image]
(6) Captain's announcement: "... and, at this time, you may switch on your electronic devices and see what he's said now." [Cartoon caption from The New Yorker]
(7) Final thought for the day: View the Trump presidency as a needed vaccine; if we survive it, we may become immune to the disease of Trump-like leaders.

2018/04/03 (Tuesday): Book review: Jahren, Hope, Lab Girl, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by the author, Random House Audio, 2016. [My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Cover image of Hope Jahren's memoir 'Lab Girl' In this award-winning and best-selling book, Jahren writes about her personal experiences and professional endeavors as a triple-Fulbright-winning geobiologist. The journal Nature has characterized Lab Girl as "Clear, compelling and uncompromisingly honest" and its author as "the voice that science has been waiting for."
The book is "UCSB Reads" program's 2018 selection, which provided me with a free hard-copy, but I ended up listening to the MP3 audiobook version I borrowed from my local library. Hearing Jahren read her own book is a definite plus; you can readily recognize the highly emotional passages by her quivering voice. Jahren gave a free public lecture at UCSB's Campbell Hall on April 3, 2018, under the title "Be as a Tree: The Magic of Roots, Leaves and Everything in-Between." Some of the anecdotes in the review that follows come from her UCSB lecture.
Jahren grew up in the science lab of her dad, a professor at a rural Minnesota college. Her scientific pursuits took her to UC Berkeley as a graduate student, followed by stints at Georgia Tech, Johns Hopkins U., and U. Hawaii. She shares the hardships she and her poorly-compensated assistant and long-term collaborator endured to work on research projects they liked and the numerous redirections and re-starts that were required after messing up.
Jahren has become a feminist icon, but, in this book, she does not dwell much on her specific problems as a woman doing science, but rather emphasizes the difficulty of doing science in general, especially as research funds become scarce and competition for limited resources intensify. The lion's share of funding goes to applied research, something that Jahren has reluctantly accepted: "Science for war will always pay better than science for knowledge."
Jahren grew up at an age and in a place where girls had to be completed by boys. Once a co-worker asked her if she had a boyfriend. Somehow, she felt compelled to lie and answered "yes." He then asked why she was working if she had a boyfriend! About problems arising from sexism in STEM fields, Jahren has opined, "My challenge is to show these problems, while ferociously defending all that is beautiful and noble about doing science with your hands. My story is not tragic. I have been generously rewarded for everything I've ever tried to do. I'm actually a happy ending."
Jahren began her UCSB talk by telling the audience a bit about herself, now a character in a book! She indicated that the main message of her book and talk was that plants are alive. Some consider them "less alive" than animals, but they are really just as alive. Plants move by hydrating and dehydrating their various parts, as they do not have muscles. They need to move in order to get light, their only source of energy. Seeds as well as centuries-old trees are alive and patiently waiting for long stretches of time: One is waiting for an opportune moment to sprout and become a plant, the other to die.
In her talk, Jahren read passages from several holy books that showed the central roles of plants and flowers in ancient times. She connected these passages to the observation that plants and flowers are links to our past, noting that even though she had very little in common with a middle-aged woman who lived many centuries ago, they could both relate to the notion of sitting in the shade under a tree or smelling a fragrant flower.
Like her book, the UCSB talk was frank and witty, and at times laugh-out-loud funny. She indicated that one positive aspect of doing research on plants is that you can do anything with them, even kill them, with no repercussions. There is no need for cumbersome paperwork and authorizations! You can't deprive an animal of water for days to see what happens to it!
A refreshing aspect of Lab Girl is the way in which Jahren describes nature and her research on plant life. Here's an example: "A cactus doesn't live in the desert because it likes the desert; it lives there because the desert hasn't killed it yet. Any plant that you find growing in the desert will grow a lot better if you take it out of the desert. The desert is a lot like lousy neighborhoods; nobody living there can afford to move." In her UCSB lecture, Jahren stressed the predicament of plants in terms of having but one chance: Once they spread their roots, they have to endure whatever comes their way, as they can't just pack up and move to a better location.
In the Q&A period, a number of interesting questions were asked and Jahren's replies were just as refreshing as her talk. On encouraging students to do science, she observed that we don't give enough positive feedback, focusing instead on problem areas, such as a student needing to learn more about statistics or work on improving this or that skill. Her advice is that we focus on students' strengths, what feels right to them, and where they can thrive. Asked about the one thing she wished she were told or knew before embarking on a career in science, she answered that she was a know-it-all and would not have listened to any advice anyway, quipping: "That's the reason I had only one friend." Elsewhere, she joked that she receives almost no party invitations because of her outspokenness. In answer to a question from a female assistant professor about the challenges of academia for women, Jahren explained that the problems are the same as elsewhere in society and that every issue faced by feminism boils down to the three interconnected basic notions of sexual violence, pay inequity, and reproductive rights.
As she nears 50, Jahren is almost finished with her next book, which deals with five decades of her life and changes in the natural world over that time period. She characterizes the new book's tone as optimistic, in line with her belief in love and work, a combination that makes it difficult to imagine we won't prevail.

2018/04/02 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Street in San Francisco, California, 1964. Young woman riding a motorcycle with a golf bag on her back, 1928 Alfred Hitchcock in front of a 'Psycho' billboard during a promotional tour in Berlin, Germany, 1960 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Street in San Francisco, California, 1964. [Center] Young woman riding a motorcycle with a golf bag on her back, 1928. [Right] Alfred Hitchcock in front of a 'Psycho' billboard during a promotional tour in Berlin, Germany, 1960.
(2) This week's cover of Santa Barbara Independent reminded me of the scramble in April many years ago to find the kids appropriate summer activities before all local programs filled up.
(3) April is the US National Poetry Month and many publications, including Santa Barbara Independent, are having special features to mark the occasion. [Page in SB Independent]
(4) Local journalists and broadcasters up in arms against Sinclair Broadcast Group's mandate that stations air more anti-media stories in support of President Trump's media bashing. Here is the script Sinclair Broadcast Group shoved down the throats of all of its affiliate stations, which are supposed to be independently-operated stations serving the needs of their local communities.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Kellyanne Conway is the number-one leaker in the White House, according to author of new book on Trump.
- China's out-of-control Tiangong-1 space lab crashes into Pacific Ocean: Phew!
- Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking given a royal treatment for his burial in Cambridge, England.
- Both NYT and WP had editorials on 3/31 lamenting Trump administration's disdain toward science.
- Quote of the day: "Earth is forgiveness school. It begins by forgiving yourself." ~ Anne Lamott
- Anne Lamott's witty and funny 16-minute TED talk: 12 Truths I Learned from Life and Writing.
- Human Statue of Liberty: Some 18,000 men were used for this 1918 photo, taken in Iowa.
- People of Astara worked hard for 15 weeks to turn their river into the first trash-free waterway in Iran.
Open-access publishing logo (6) Pull vs. push in scholarly publishing: For many decades, the standard publishing model was subscription-based, or the reader-pays model. Researchers would publish their work free of charge and the publisher, whether it was a non-profit professional entity or a commercial publisher, would recover its costs through paid personal and institutional subscriptions. It was later realized that the subscription-based model hindered access to scientific research results, especially for non-sponsored individual researchers and for those living in developing countries. The open-access publishing model was supposed to fix the problem by asking the authors or their institutions to pay a one-time up-front fee to cover publication costs in order to make access completely free to readers. There is general agreement among researchers that open-access is a better model, particularly in disciplines where research sponsors pay the up-front fees, known as article-processing charges. A negative byproduct of this push-style open-access publishing was the emergence of predatory publishers, who make a profit by publishing almost anything, without, or with very minimal, peer reviews. Authors who can afford to pay the processing charges can pad their publication lists and pretend that they are successful researchers, without burning the midnight oil, so to speak. Among academic institutions, such predatory publishers are known (black-listed) and papers they publish are viewed as unworthy of credit in research assessments for the sake of promotions, research grants, and the like. A proposal, offered by Sheldon H. Jacobson in the March 2018 issue of Communications of the ACM may help solve this problem. The pull-style proposal is to divide research institutions into three tiers, depending on the volume of papers their researchers publish, and have them pay a "fair" annual subscription fee for their researcers to be able to publish all their work free of charge. Because publishers will be competing to get the said subscription fees from prestigious institutions, they will be motivated to improve the quality of their peer-review process. Also, to preserve their academic prestige, institutions will be motivated to support only high-quality journals and conferences, leading to a sustainable solution. [Image: .jpg; 259w, 93h]

2018/04/01 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Unknown man during the Great Depression, 1932 The Kennedys in a photo-booth picture Soldier carrying a Christmas tree home, 1915 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Unknown man during the Great Depression, 1932. [Center] The Kennedys in a photo-booth picture. [Right] Soldier carrying a Christmas tree home, 1915.
(2) Steel tariffs may spur research on advanced composite materials to replace steel: This isn't necessarily bad, but the tariffs may not actually bring manufacturing and steel jobs back.
(3) The Economics of "Fake News": This is the title of an article by Nir Kshetri and Jeffrey Voas, published in the November/December 2017 issue of IEEE's IT Professional. AI can now produce fake research papers that pass the peer review process of reputable conferences and journals. Automatic generation of fake news stories is even easier and it has vast economic consequences, given that catchy fake-news headlines generate clicks and, thus, advertising dollars.
(Anne Lamott’s witty and funny 16-minute TED talk: 12 Truths I Learned from Life and Writing. Book talk in Santa Barbara: Abigail Pogrebin will speak under the title "My Amazing, Demanding, Indelible Jewish Year," on Sunday, April 22, 2018, 3:00 PM (at Congregation B'nai B'rit, 1000 San Antonio Creek Road), based on her book, My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays, one Wondering Jew, Fig Tree Books, 2017.
(5) Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," sung in English and Arabic: The 22-year-old singer, Mennel Ibtissem, was later forced to quit the French singing competition show because of her insensitive remarks on social media, expressing doubts that the 2016 Nice truck attack, killling 86 and injuring hundreds, was a case of terrorism.
Cover image for Bandy Lee's 'The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump' (6) Book review: Lee, Bandy X., The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, unabridged MP3 audiobook with several narrators, Macmillan Audio, 2017.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Dr. Bandy Lee was the organizer of Yale University's "Duty to Warn" Conference in which the 27 psychiatrists, psychologist, and other mental health experts featured in this volume participated. The various contributors examine different aspects of Donald Trump's personality and mode of operation and the dangers they pose to our country and its citizens, although there is significant overlap among the contributions.
The American Psychiatric Association's "Goldwater rule" (named after presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, who was deemed by nearly 1200 psychiatrists as unfit to be US President) bars mental health professionals from diagnosing public figures they have not personally examined. Many such professionals maintain that their duty to warn against an unfit and unstable leader takes precedence over the rules of their professions.
Collectively, the 27 contributors present a compelling case that Donald Trump constitutes a clear and present danger to the United States and the world, whatever the psychiatric diagnosis of his condition might be. In fact, it is irrelevant whether the danger posed by Trump arises from a specific psychiatric condition.

2018/03/31 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy Passover to all! Chocolate bunnies with missing parts Happy Easter to all! (1) Happy Passover to all those celebrating this Jewish holiday, whose observance actually began last night! Also, a very happy Easter to all those who observe the holiday tomorrow! Chocolate bunnies are everywhere in stores, so I thought the middle image above might resonate with you all!
(2) The myth of the criminal immigrant: Despite the 118% increase in the immigrant population from 1980 to 2016, the US crime rate fell by 36%. [NYT chart]
(3) New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu is this year's JFK Profile in Courage Award honoree for pursuing the removal of four Confederate statues in the city. [1-minute video]
(4) After repeatedly saying over the past two years that she'd devote herself to preventing cyber-bullying, Melania Trump indicates that cyber-bullying is too narrow a focus and, instead, she plans to work on all issues related to children, including nutrition and drug abuse. I guess reneging on promises runs in the family!
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Moses goes down to Egypt: A jazzy tune about Passover.
- Just because it is the "White" House, doesn't mean that nearly all the interns should be white! [Photo]
- UC-Berkeley engineers build a three-atoms-thick display that becomes fully transparent when not in use.
- Twitter bots are fueling political discord: This Scientific American article presents the whys and hows.
- Iranian vigilante threatens a women's-rights activist of the "My Stealthy Freedom" fame with death.
- Kurds in the village of Kanduleh, Kermanshah, observe a long-running tradition of welcoming Nowruz.
(6) Corruption everywhere: EPA Chief Scott Pruitt got a sweetheart $50/night deal on a townhouse close to Capitol Hill, owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist, paid only on the nights he stayed there.
(7) Terahertz computers appear to be within reach: After years of exponential growth, the clock rates of modern mass-market processors have flattened out at just under 10 GHz. One reason is the extreme energy requirements of faster processors. Another is compromised reliability for higher clock rates. A Hebrew University of Jerusalem researcher has found a way to increase the clock rate 100-fold by using scalable and mass-producible optical elements.
(8) [Final thought for the day] Walk with your head up on Monday: The out-of-control 9.4-ton Chinese Space Lab Tiangong-1 is hurtling toward the Earth, with crashing tentatively expected on Monday 4/01. No one knows where it will hit. And, no, this isn't an April Fool's hoax!

2018/03/30 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image for Arianna Huffington's 'Thrive' (1) Book review: Huffington, Arianna, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Agapi Stassinopoulos, Random House Audio, 2014.
[My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
I started listening to this audiobook with relatively low expectations. Even then, I was rather disappointed with Huffington's superficial reasoning and rampant use of cliches. The main point of the book is that success cannot stand on the two legs of money and power, but needs a third leg, made of the three 'W's mentioned in the book's title: well-being, wisdom, and wonder. Huffington subsequently clarifies that giving is also part of this "third metric" of success.
And the problem starts right here, at the very beginning. Considering the three most-important components of human happiness and contentment collectively on par with money or power is difficult to justify. This obsession with money and power is uniquely American and, in a rather strange way, anti-American, a contradiction that is all too clear in today's climate.
If I were to construct a similar recipe for gauging success, I would build a 4-legged stool, with the four legs being well-being, wisdom, wonder, and money/power. Money and power are mere tools and don't bring us happiness in and of themselves, whereas each of the three 'W's is germane to human contentment. The also-important attributes of compassion and giving result directly from the other four.
The most compelling parts of this new book are those dealing with the importance of mindfulness and getting enough sleep (the latter being the subject of a previous book by Huffington, The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time). "Sleeping your way to the top" is how Huffington puts it. Huffington cites much academic research in putting across the key roles of mindfulness and proper sleep habits, and I learned a great deal from these parts of the book.
Producers of the audiobook apparently thought that having someone with as thick a Greek accent as Huffington's reading the book adds to its authenticity. The strategy backfires, in my opinion. And it's not just the accent: Ms. Stassinopoulos frequently puts the stress on the wrong syllables in words or words in sentences. Listeners may tolerate a less-than-pleasant voice, accent, or enunciation when it comes from the author of a work, but coming from someone else, it quickly becomes annoying.
(2) A new book every Jewish voter should read before the 2018 US election: It's on my to-read list.
Weisman, Jonathan, (((Semitism))): Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump, St. Martin's Press, 2018.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- The web of connections between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. [Image]
- Donald Trump vs. Jeff Bezos, round 2: As an avid user of Amazon's services, I'm rooting for Bezos.
- New film on Mary Magdalene stirs up age-old controversies about her character and connection to Jesus.
- Number-one late-night talk show host Stephen Colbert's 30-minute SuperSoul conversation with Oprah.
- Humorous meme of the day: Hope Hicks finally departs the White House. May start a fragrance business!
- Strategic expression: UCSB Psychology professor explores facial expressions as tools for social influence.
- Physics created the A-bomb and chemistry the nerve gas: Will CS follow suit with weaponized algorithms?
(4) In January, at the start of our planning for a 50th-anniversary get-together of Fanni College's class of 1968 at University of Tehran (set for July 14-18, 2018, in Yerevan, Armenia), we were exchanging memories, funny stories, and poems about our long journey and other topics of interest. Here is the poem I contributed.

2018/03/29 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Ernest R. Ashton, Evening near the Pyramids, circa 1897 The original 'Star Wars' cast The eruption of Mount St. Helens, 1980 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Ernest R. Ashton, Evening near the Pyramids, circa 1897. [Center] The original "Star Wars" cast. [Right] The eruption of Mount St. Helens, 1980.
(2) Today I updated my spring 2018 course Web pages in preparation for classes beginning on Monday, April 2. Here are the links: ECE 1B, freshman seminar, "Ten Puzzling Problems in Computer Engineering" (meets Wed., 3:30-4:50); ECE 252B, graduate course, "Computer Arithmetic" (meets Mon./Wed. 12:00-1:30).
(3) A very unstable POTUS: Trump states that the US will withdraw from Syria very soon, letting others take care of the problems there. Both the State Department and US Military's Central Command are caught off-guard, denying any withdrawal plans. Our Commander-in-Chief is now putting the US armed forces in a bind, while alerting enemies to our military plans!
(4) Comedian Stephen Colbert jokingly referred to a GoFundMe project to pay for Trump's border wall, but someone has already set up a page, which shows $208 raised from its $400M goal!
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Trump is advised to eliminate two White House positions: Communications Director and Chief of Staff.
- Fire after riot at Venezuelan police station leaves 68 dead.
- Family of 8 perishes in SUV plunge off a cliff in California: Five confirmed dead; three kids still missing.
- Judge is cited because he asked a woman if she tried closing her legs to prevent alleged sexual assault!
- Earliest known human footprints in North America (13,000 years old) found on Canadian island.
- Andrea Bocelli channels Elvis while performing in Las Vegas: "Can't Help Falling in Love"
- Half of the estimated 1M Iranian-Americans live in SoCal, mostly in "Tehrangeles": Here's their story.
- "I am not this hair, I am not this skin. I am this soul that lives within." ~ Rumi (Mowlavi)
- "The car doesn't know if I'm a man or a woman, and it doesn't care." ~ Pro race-car driver Julia Landauer
(6) The Quantum Brain Project (QuBrain): An international research collaboration based at UCSB investigates the brain's potential for quantum computation. It is hoped that this project will reveal the nature of some of the human brain's functions, such as long-term memory, that continue to elude neuroscience.

2018/03/28 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Poster for UCSB Economic Forecast Project's panel discussion at Lobero Theater (1) What Happened, and What Now? (A Discussion on the Economic, Business, and Fiscal Impacts of the Thomas Fire and Montecito Mudslides): This was the title of a panel discussion organized by UCSB Economic Forecast Project (EFP) and held at Santa Barbara's Lobero Theater. Two moderators* and six presenters had been announced, but a Montecito resident was added to the list of presenters. The gender balance among the presenters and moderators was a pleasant surprise for me. Today's discussions and PowerPoint presentation slides will be made available via UCSB-EFP Web site and the full event will be broadcast by a local Santa Barbara TV station.
- Ed Edick*, Co-Owner/Founder, Village Properties
- Janet Garufis*, Chair & CEO, Montecito Bank & Trust
- Dave Jones, California Insurance Commissioner
- Peter Rupert, PhD, Executive Director, UCSB-EFP
- Nina Johnson, Sr. Assistant to the SB City Administrator
- Kathy Janega-Dykes, President & CEO, Visit SB
- Betsy Schaffer, Assistant Auditor-Controller, SB County
- Joe Holland, Clerk, Recorder & Assessor, SB County
- Megan Orloff, Montecito resident
I will just list some facts and figures from my notes, leaving the discussion details to subsequent publication by UCSB-EFP: Insurace claims $1.8B; Firefighting costs $177M; Average length of business closures 13 days (longest was 72 days); More than 50% of homes in 12 different counties are now classified as high-risk and will likely see significant insurance rate increases (the Commissioner must approve rate increases, based on recovery of expenditure over several years, not all at once); Hotel revenue losses in December $6M; Based on experience, recovery from an event of this magnitude takes at least 90 days; Properties damaged 401 (total value $1.2B); Estimated county-wide tax loss this year $6.9M (doubling next year); Effects on sales tax are unknown, due to delayed reporting; Some 94% of costs will be recovered from FEMA, but revenue losses are unrecoverable; Montecito is an unincorported entity, making decisions on recovery projects difficult (some changes may be forthcoming); Coast Village Road and US 101 traffic problems, which were serious even before the disaster, are being given full consideration; SB County had a rainy-day fund which helped cover the expenses; Many homeowners will not rebuild; Construction guidelines to minimize the impact of future disasters of this kind are being considered; Schools will feel the impact of tax revenue loss next year, not this year; Governor Brown has some funds for the fire-impacted Sonoma County schools, and SB has asked to be included in the use of those funds; The Sonoma County fire, particularly in Santa Rosa, was much more devastating in terms of monetary loss tha Montecito's. [Before and after imagery]
Insurance questions of any kind for the Commissioner's office (not limited to fire and mudslide): 800-929-4357
[Side note: A few photos of Santa Barbara's historic Lobero Theater, the downtown Post Office diagonally across the street from it, and a couple of other architectural landmarks within a block of the Theater.]
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Trump's legal team in tatters: Prominent lawyers and law firms are avoiding his toxic White House.
- A Chinese tomb, holding many interesting artefacts and booze from 2000 years ago unearthed.
- Big pharma is suffocating our healthcare system with unreasonable price hikes.
- Is China throwing a curveball by meeting with Kim Jong Un ahead of his meeting Trump or is it helping?
- Is the interstitium really a previously overlooked human organ, as scientists now claim?
- A wonderful resource: Broad collection of free e-books on programming and other CS topics.
- Caption: "Are there any non-citizen immigrants here? The President may need a new wife." [Cartoon]
- Let's not forget this meme and sign in the 2018 US congressional and local elections.
(3) Carsey-Wolf Center presents "Women in Comedy": Achievements of women in American film and television comedy will be showcased during the spring 2018 series, each screening followed by a moderated discussion. All screenings begin at 7:00 PM, except for the one on Saturday 5/19, which begins at 2:00 PM.
- April 12 (Thursday): "Saturday Night Live" (55 min), with Laraine Newman (actress)
- April 17 (Tuesday): "Drop Dead Gorgeous" (97 min), with Mindy Sterling (actress)
- April 19 (Thursday): "Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley" (72 min), with Bambi Haggins (UC Irvine)
- May 19 (Saturday): "The Royal Tanenbaums" (110 min; 2001), with Gwyneth Paltrow (actress)
- May 22 (Tuesday): Two Silent Classics*, with live piano accompaniment by Michael Mortilla (pianist)
[* "Won in a Cupboard" (13 min; 1914) and "The Oyster Princess" (60 min; 1919)]

2018/03/27 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
UCSB Arts Walk publicity poster (1) UCSB Arts Walk: This collection of free events will be held on Wednesday 4/11, 4:30-8:00 PM, at various campus locations, it will feature rehearsals, performances, and exhibits from the Departments of Music, Art, Theater & Dance, as well as College of Creative Studies, UCSB Library, Multicultural Center, and Art, Design, & Architecture Museum.
(2) Reactions of cowardly politicians to March for Our Lives:
Rubio: I do not agree with the March for Our Lives.
Santorum: Students should learn CPR instead of marching.
Trump: Played golf and largly ignored the marching students.
(3) This Kurdish girl reminds us that the Kurds, who helped the world by fighting ISIS at great cost in lives and treasure, were abandoned at Afrin, when they came under fire from Turkey.
(4) What a legal mess! Attorneys for attorneys fight over Stormy Daniel's "60 Minutes" interview. I am not posting this story because of my interest in the sexual revelations it contains. I just wanted to show my befuddlement over attorneys for other attorneys and attorneys for agents fighting each other in the media. On second thought, maybe this isn't weird at all. Don't dentists go to other dentists to have their teeth fixed?
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Facebook's epic fail: Zuckerberg falls from potential presidential candidate to an untrustworthy person.
- Why Trump was so keen on increasing the defense budget: He hopes the military will pay for his wall!
- There have been other stories of abusive nurses, but abusing newborns is particularly troubling.
- Time magazine turns 95: Its first issue was dated March 3, 1923. Here are two covers from that first year.
- Quote of the day: "When you blame others, you give up your power to change." ~ Anonymous
- This is Iran: An 8-minute video (in Persian), in which a number of Iranians introduce their favorite places.
(6) Brief samples of old programs on Iranian radio. People of Iranian origins, who are about my age, can identify with these audio clips from Iran's pre-TV days, when radio was king. [6-minute audio file]
(7) This Facebook post of mine from March 27, 2017, about Kushner's opinion that America should be run like a business, has turned into a funny one, given what we now know about him as a slumlord, who pressured tenants with all sorts of inconveniences to force them to leave.
(8) Dr. Nouri Parhami, one of the three surviving uncles on my father's side of the family, passed away late last night. Nine of his siblings had preceded him on this journey. He specialized in internal medicine and rheumatology, and he had published many research papers in the latter field. He was proud of his Kurdish heritage and played the tar in his spare time. He is survived by his wife, three daughters, two grandchildren, and two younger brothers. I offer this Persian poem, in which both half-verses of each verse begin with one letter in his Persian first name, as a token of my respect and appreciation. May he Rest in Peace!

2018/03/26 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Marilyn Monroe visiting American troops in Korea, 1954 Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland, 1946 Gregory Peck reading 'To Kill a Mockingbird'; photo by Cliff Donaldson (1) History in pictures: [Left] Marilyn Monroe visiting American troops in Korea, 1954. [Center] Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland, 1946. [Right] Gregory Peck reading 'To Kill a Mockingbird'; photo by Cliff Donaldson.
(2) The group Public Citizen has filed complaints about violations of Trump's Executive Order No. 13770, which barred former lobbyists from being appointed to governmental positions in many cases.
(3) Look who's complaining about fake news and inaccurate statements! Trump takes a swipe at Stormy Daniels and CBS's "60 Minutes," without mentioning them by name, which is unusual for the Bully-in-Chief, who has a name for everyone he dislikes. Trump tweet (3/26/18, 5:38 AM): "So much Fake News. Never been more voluminous or more inaccurate. But through it all, our country is doing great!"
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Shopping-center fire in the Russian city of Kemerovo kills at least 64, with dozens still missing.
- US to expel 60 Russian diplomats in multi-nation coordinated response to UK poisoning of Russian ex-spy.
- NRA used rapper Killer Mike'a interview about police brutality to slam the Parkland students' March.
- Iranian philosopher and free-thinker Dariush Shayegan, center in this selfie taken shortly before his passing.
- [Joke of the day] Book 1 to Book 2: "You look so much thinner since you had your appendix removed."
- Women musicians play at a shopping mall in Tehran on the occasion of Women's Day. [3-minute video].
(5) I hope this doesn't mean what I think it means: The Serbian Defense Minister states that the military will participate in raising the birth rate in Serbia!
Cover image of Amy Schumers 'The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo' (6) Book review: Schumer, Amy, The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by the author, Simon & Schuster Audio, 2016. [My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
I found this non-memoir (Schumer states that she is too young to write a memoir) by a highly successful comedian somewhat disappointing. I consider Schumer a brave and talented writer/performer, but there are many stories in this book that make one consider fast-forwarding to more interesting stuff. Touching and insightful passages aren't totally missing, but they are few and far in between. The part of the book I liked best is Schumer's description of her gun-laws activism, which began after a mass shooting at a theater screening her 2015 movie, "Trainwreck."
Schumer built her reputation as a comic with her brand of shock humor, defined as a comedy style with excessive focus on toilet language and overt sexual themes, among others. Male comedians have been using shock humor for decades, with female comedians getting into it more recently. Its success is in part due to our inhibitions in discussing our most private thoughts, which leads to a kind of release when someone else does so. Shock humor is also a way for comics to make their brand stand out in a crowded and highly competitive profession. The different ways in which male and female comedians pursuing shock humor are viewed by our society is a good example of the long way we still need to go in confronting misogyny.
I learned from this book that schumer, besides being talented, is also hard-working and quite focused on achieving her goals. It is a miracle that she became so successful, given the many different family arrangements she experienced. Almost all of those family configurations had one or more forms of dysfunction. Schumer resented her mom and dad for the aloof, reckless lives they led, but, in the end, she actually loved both of them, warts and all.
In recent years, quite a few young female actresses and stand-up comedians have written books and there seems to be a lucrative market for getting life advice from those who have not always made the best choices themselves. If you like Schumer and her brand of humor, you will enjoy this book. Otherwise, you can skip it, with little loss.

2018/03/25 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Three of the women who are fighting legal battles with Trump (1) Three of the women who will bring Trump down: Their motivations are unclear; even the one who claims she loved him, comes across as insincere. But, hey, no amount of insincerity or deception will match Trump's.
(2) Stopping hurricanes in their tracks: Is it just a scientific pipe dream or might it be possible to prevent hurricanes from gaining strength by using technology to reduce the surface temperature of oceans?
(3) Anonymous quote: "You'd be surprised how far you can go from the point where you thought was the end."
(4) Autonomous vehicles are as safe as human-operated ones, and they will ultimately be much safer: Despite the recent fatality in Arizona, the safety record of self-driving cars is still better than that of human-operated vehicles, when measured in accidents or fatalities per mile driven. Asking that safety rules be overhauled after a single fatality is like demanding that rules for issuring driver's licenses be revised after each traffic death.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Charity redefined: NRA is a tax-exempt public charity! Unbelievable!
- Bill Gates recreates a 1973 photo pose 43 years later. [Photos]
- Armenian State Jazz Band, something to look for if your travels take you to Yerevan, Armenia: "Qaravan"
- A luxury cruise ship has been sliced in half as part of a project to extend its length by 15 m (50 ft).
- Irish blessing: May you never forget what's worth remembering, nor ever remember what's best forgotten.
- History in pictures: Long-Term Parking, by Armand Pierre Fernandez, 1982. [Photo]
- Cartoon of the day: Spring arrives for Special Counsel Robert Mueller. [Image]
(6) Nine operatives of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps have been charged with global cyber-thefts: They will be arrested if they travel to any of the countries that have extradition treaties with the US. The attacked sites include those of university researchers, industrial and regulatory entities, and Internet/media companies. This is worrisome on multiple levels. First, many universities conduct classified research, so some intelligence-, security-, and weapons-related research may have been compromised. Second, industrial research projects with potential for patenting and licensing will have their values vastly diminished, as Iran is known to exchange such data with China, Russia, and other countries. Third, mailboxes that are said to have been stolen in full may get a lot of people in trouble, including professors of Iranian origins who are politically active, along with any contacts they may have in Iran and other countries around the world.
(7) Santa Barbara March for Our Lives: Yesterday's march along State Street, from De La Guerra Plaza to Victoria, and back, as well as in many other cities around the US, was to show support for Florida's Parkland students and other youth who have started a fight against the tyranny of NRA, a fight that we adults have not taken up with the same zeal and that our political leaders have avoided for decades. The crowd was comparable to the 2017 women's march (also, much more energized), and it was considerably larger than the 2018 edition of the women's march. There was significant participation by teenagers and younger kids, girls in particular, who led many of the chants. "I May Be Next" was the most heart-breaking sign I saw. One speaker at the pre-march rally had lost a friend in last year's Las Vegas mass shooting. She brought a photo of her friend, a Carpinteria resident, and urged us not to wait for such tragedies to affect us personally before acting. [Photos]

Cover image for the book 'Everybody Lies' 2018/03/24 (Saturday): Book review: Stephens-Davidowitz, Seth, Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Tim Andres Pabon, Harper Audio, 2017.
[My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
A main thesis of this remarkable book is that the days of doing research with small samples are over in a number of domains. Analysis of Google searches can tell us a lot more, with a larger sample size than we could ever dream of and with much greater honesty on the part of the subjects. Stephens-Davidowitz cites numerous examples. For instance, racism is a trait that people hide quite successfully. When Barack Obama was elected President, the prevailing mood was that America had become a post-racial society. Yet, Google searches told a different story, given that many people were searching for phrases like "nigger jokes," a search that also peaks on Martin Luther King Day.
Searches for porn, relationship insecurities, and embarrassing diseases also tell similar stories, hence, the title "Everybody Lies." It is impossible to get accurate results from survey questions such as: Have you ever cheated on an exam? How many times have you had sex over the last week? Have you ever fantasized about killing someone? Social desirability bias makes people under-report shameful behaviors and over-report activity that makes them look good or desirable.
Nowhere is the discrepancy between self-reported traits and actual behaviors more evident than in talking about sex. Here is one example: data on condom sales show a much lower volume than the number obtained by people's self-reported sexual activity in which they used condoms. As another example, gay men are distributed pretty much evenly across the united states, judging by Google search data about gay sex, yet there are far more openly gay men in tolerant states than in intolerant ones. There are many other examples that contradict conventional wisdom.
Google's autocomplete feature for searches, which is based on searches that have been performed in the past, reveals much about social behavior. If a woman starts to type "Is my husband ..." into Google's search box, the continuation "gay" is more likely than "cheating," revealing a deep social insecurity, particularly in states that are less tolerant toward homosexuality. If you start your search with "Why are Jews ... ," autocomplete suggests the continuations "evil," "tight," "ugly," and the like. I tried this out and it seems that Google has stopped offering such continuations in searches about Jews!
Google search data is supplied to researchers anonymously, so (it is claimed that) nothing can be construed about the behavior of individuals. Clever use of the data can reveal correlations and complex relationships about various social groups. Yet, the recent data harvesting scandal at Facebook in connection with the 2016 US election makes one suspicious of the claim that no personal data is disclosed via Google data sets.
It is quite interesting that Google search capability, which was devised to help people understand the world, is also quite useful in helping the world understand people!
If you don't have the time to peruse this important and enjoyable book, I recommend the excellent summary published by The Guardian, which also includes an interview with the author.

2018/03/23 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Time magazine cover honors the Parkland, Florida, students (1) Cover story of Time magazine, issue of April 2, 2018, honors the Parkland, Florida, students and "March for Our Lives" organizers.
(2) Global detective work: A Twitter group effort helped identify the lone woman in this 1971 photo of scientists, in which all the men had previously been named. She is Sheila Minor Huff, a biological specimen analyst at the Fish and Wildlife Service at the time.
(3) Famed Iranian philosopher and free-thinker passes away at 83: Dariush Shayegan [1934-2018] died today at a Tehran hospital. Here is one of his noteworthy quotes: "Tolerance is accepting the other and taming your ego."
(4) Trump shows he is all bark and no bite: After threatening to veto the Congressional spending bill over inadequate funding for his wall, the one Mexico was supposed to pay for, he sheepishly signs it. The spending bill is a must-pass bill, as no one wants to be blamed for a government shut-down. So, true-to-form, the swamp denizens (the same swamp that was supposed to be drained) put all sorts of sneaky provisions into it. One such provision is protections for anonymous political contributions, aka "dark money."
(5) Previously anonymous DNC hacker known as Guccifer 2.0 has been identified as a Russian intelligence officer, who was in touch with Trump friend and confidante Roger Stone.
(6) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Mark Zuckerberg apologizes, sort of, for Cambridge Analytica's data misuse but also deflects blame.
- Amnesty International criticizes Twitter for failing to act on reports of abuse and harassment toward women.
- It's no longer a question of whether Trump will fall but of when he'll fall. Prepare for the war-like aftermath!
- Developing story: Iran accused of hacking US academic sites to steal intellectual property.
- Cambridge Analytica's leaked internal document reveals its blueprint for securing a Trump victory.
- Meme of the day: If you're not paying for it, you're not the customer. You're the product being sold. [Image]
- Oxymoronic tweet of the day: The Flat Earth Society has members all around the globe. [Image]
- "We're beta-testing ways to get the President to read his briefings." [Cartoon] [Source: The New Yorker]
(7) In Trump's logic, "x AND not-x" is true: You can be against the Iraq War and appoint one of its staunchest supporters, John Bolton, your National Security Adviser!
(8) Reality trumps spy fiction: Cambridge Analytica offered a foreign client services to entrap political opponents by using attractive women, unaware that the "client" was really a reporter entrapping them!
(9) Final thought for the day: It's poetic justice that the misogynistic regime in Iran and president in the US will both be brought down by women. [Photo: Nowruz in northern Iran, by Taghi Doostkouhi]

2018/03/22 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Baby doesn't seem to be pleased after his first haircut, 1955 The book-reading gadget of the future, 1935 Albert Einstein holding an Albert Einstein puppet, 1931 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Baby doesn't seem to be pleased after his first haircut, 1955. [Center] The book-reading gadget of the future, 1935. [Right] Albert Einstein holding an Albert Einstein puppet, 1931.
(2) Fragrance of jasmines fills the spring air around me, as I work at home, and my courtyard fountain is overflowing from a second day of rain. This beautiful rainy day will be followed by seven days of sunshine, if one is to believe the weather forecast. There is no end in sight for the scary clouds in our country's political scene, though. Happy Thursday! [Photos]
(3) Trump chaos continues: H. R. McMaster fired as National Security Adviser (to be replaced by John Bolton); Attorney John Dowd resigns; Dow Jones plunges on fear of trade war.
(4) Quote of the day: "A tree can be tempted out of its winter dormancy by a few hours of southerly sun—the readiness to believe in spring is stronger than sleep or sanity." ~ Amy Leach, Things that Are
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Tiffany ditched by boyfriend. Donald Jr.'s wife divorces him. Donald's marriage is on the rocks. Stay tuned!
- Panel on Santa Barbara's recovery from Thomas Fire and mudflows: Lobero Theater, 3/28, 3:30 PM.
- Tehran International Airport, at the moment of Spring Equinox (saal tahveel). [2-minute video]
- Iranian music: "Waltz-e Nowruzi" ("Nowruz Waltz")
- Someone had to say it: Americans' notion of masculinity creates lonely men.
- Geeky facts about White House's Oval Office: The ellipse has an eccentricity of e = 0.62. [More]
- Cartoon of the day: Isolationist-in-Chief hard at work. (So, this is the wall he was talking about!) [Image]
(6) To all Facebook users who take on-line personality tests and allow various third parties access to their personal data and friends lists: Cambridge Analytica, which worked for Trump's campaign to help with the production of targeted ads, used such tests, celebrity look-alike offers, and other seemingly harmless activities to harvest data and construct detailed psychological profiles for more than 50 million Facebook users.
(7) Cartoon caption of the day: "Facebook was better before they let moms and hostile foreign agents join." ~ Caption of a New Yorker cartoon [Referring to the illicit use of private data harvested from Facebook]
(8) Walking in the rain this afternoon: I was working at home, resigned to the idea that I won't walk today and will do double the walking tomorrow, when an e-mail message from a neighbor alerted me that the Devereux Slough had broken through to the ocean, creating a sight to behold. Since the rain had slowed down a bit, I immediately put my shoes on, took an umbrella, and began walking towards the Slough. These photos show the Slough and my return path via bluff-tops near the UCSB West Campus beach. Puddles and wet ground made walking a challenge, but it was well worth the effort. I was surprised to see that surfers were not deterred by the rain and high winds. Here is a 2-minute video of the ocean.

2018/03/21 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Photo of John Hennessy and David Patterson, co-winners of ACM's 2018 A. M. Turing Award (1) ACM's 2018 Turing Award is bestowed upon John L. Hennessy (a former president of Stanford U) and David A. Patterson (a retired professor of UC Berkeley), for their seminal contributions to computer architecture. The duo is credited with popularizing the RISC concept, writing a highly influential textbook, and putting computer architecture on a quantitative footing. ACM's A. M. Turing Award, often referred to as the "Nobel Prize of Computing," carries a $1 million prize, with financial support provided by Google. It is named for Alan M. Turing, the British mathematician who articulated the mathematical foundation and limits of computing.
(2) Misogyny in Asian soccer: Mahsa Ghorbani, the only Iranian referee at AFC Asian Cup, likely won't be acknowledged by Iran's Football Federation. Her selection to referee a soccer match between two Asian men's teams has raised eyebrows, not just in Iran, but also in a number of other Islamic countries.
(3) Here's what kids think scientists look like: A few years ago, I posted the results of a similar experiment about computer scientists, who were drawn much worse than the average depiction in this study!
(4) One more female Senator will bring the Senate total to 23, a record high: Mississippi, the only US state that has not yet elected a woman to Congress, is expected to appoint the state's Agriculture and Commerce Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith to replace the resigning Senator Thad Cochran.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Austin serial-bomber dies after detonating an explosive device in his vehicle, as police closed in on him.
- Islamic-State attack near Afghanistan's Kabul University kills at least 29 and injures many more.
- Kushner family real estate business is accused of filing false reports to skirt NYC's rent-control laws.
- Ben Carson blames his wife on the purchase of $31,000 dining set for his office.
- Facebook appears to be in a survival fight, following its mishandling of illicit data-harvesting revelations.
- Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg should post status updates re compromised Facebook users' data!
- Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, a very close ally of former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, arrested.
- Santa Barbara weather: Much-needed rain today and tomorrow, followed by a week of sunshine.
- Evacuations from Thomas Fire burn areas create traffic jam on southbound US 101.
- Clever and interesting images for your enjoyment on this first day of the Iranian New Year.
- New viral meme, after Trump congratulated Putin for his "election" victory, against aides' explicit advice.
- If you want to practice finding typos and grammatical errors, here's a presidential tweet for you!
(6) Our clueless FLOTUS can't seem to get it that she has no credibility in her alleged fight against cyber-bullying, when the POTUS is by far the worst offender.
(7) Technical talk at UCSB this morning: Kaisheng Ma (Penn State U) spoke under the title "Self-Powered Internet-of-Things Nonvolatile Processor and System Exploration and Optimization." Dr. Ma has worked on energy-harvesting technologies that allow ultra-low-power devices, dissipating on the order of 100 micro-Watts (preferably less), to run IoT applications, with no need for batteries. Energy sources that can be exploited include solar, radio-frequency radiation, piezoelectric effect, and thermal gradient. Because these power sources are unreliable and affected by ambient environmental factors, we must develop specialized systems that are tolerant to power variations and capable of making progress on their computation tasks despite power discontinuities. Applicable techniques include frequency scaling, resource allocation for dynamic adjustment of the microarchitecture, and approximate computing. Here's a 2-minute demo of part of Dr. Ma's work.

2018/03/20 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
My Persian poem in celebration of Nowruz Hyacinth and other flowers (1) A Nowruz message to everyone: For many years now, I have composed a cheerful traditional Persian poem celebrating the arrival of spring and renewal of nature, as well as the Iranian New Year festival. Here is the 2018 (1397) edition. Initial letters of the poem's first and second half-verses spell its Persian title, "Khojasteh Nowruz,"which translates to "Felicitous Nowruz."
For more of my Nowruz/Norooz poems, see my poetry page.
A rough English translation of my Nowruz 2018/1397 follows.
Beautify your home, for the plain is covered with flowers
Light, Nowruz, spring, festivity, hubbub, all looming towers
Don colorful clothes, wash sorrow's rust from your mind
Joy, passion, love, affection, zeal for life are right behind
Apple, oleaster, vinegar, garlic, sumac, are all on a spread
Hue of grass, smell of hyacinth, fancy silk patterns in red
Smiles adorn your family and friends, and your own face
The time for merriment and movement has come with grace
Songs and dance all around, sounds of music everywhere
Beneath and above, near and far, right here and over there
(2) [Stephen Hawking's wonderful sense of humor] John Oliver: You have stated that you believe that there could be an infinite number of parallel universes. Does that mean there is a universe out there where I am smarter than you? Stephen Hawking: Yes. And also a universe where you're funny.
(3) The nasty nor'easters in recent weeks were caused by Jews, according to DC Councilman Trayon White Sr., because they control the weather. Welcome to the new "Great America," home of racism and anti-semitism!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Renowned computer scientist Farnam Jahanian named President of Carnegie Mellon University.
- The Texas serial-bombing mystery deepens: Bomb package explodes at FedEx facility en route to Austin.
- The US East Coast does not recognize the arrival of spring; another massive storm has arrived.
- Study on male birth control pills yields unprecedented results.
- Uber halts self-driving car tests after first fatality, a pedestrian killed in Arizona.
- Cambridge Analytica, working for the Trump campaign, harvested Facebook data for use in targeted ads.
- Quote of the day: "Our character is more evident by our choices than by our abilities." ~ Rita Schiano
- Cartoon of the day: White House's new parental advisory system. [Image][Source: The New Yorker]
(5) Hardware aspects of big-data applications: Mingyu Gao (Stanford University) spoke at UCSB yesterday under the title "Near-Data Processing Systems for Data-Intensive Applications."
Big data applications must process large volumes of data within strict time limits. Thus, memory access latency and bandwidth become major challenges, what is sometimes referred to as the "memory wall." For example, at Google data centers, an estimated 60% of CPU processing power goes to waste as a result of waiting for memory accesses. The energy requirements of an off-chip memory access, roughly 1000 times that of a floating-point addition, is also a problem.
Recent 3D integration technologies allow us to put the processing logic at the bottom layer and connect it through vias to memory layers above, in order to avoid slow and energy-intensive data movements. The speaker discussed the critical challenges of such near-data processing systems, including efficient processing logic circuits, practical system architectures, user-level programming models, and scalable parallelization and dataflow scheduling schemes.
One idea is the use of DRAM-based lookup tables and reconfigurable fabric, instead of current SRAM tables in FPGAs. While DRAM tables are denser and more energy-efficient, a variety of architectural "tricks" are needed to make them work within system constraints and performance requirements. [Photo and slides]

2018/03/18 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Photo of my haft-seen spread (1) Presenting a photo of my haft-seen spread: Wishing everyone a wonderful Nowruz and a happy, healthy, and prosperous Iranian new year! I will post my traditional Persian poem for Nowruz 1397 (the new year, according to the Iranian calendar) soon, but, as a preview, you can see it in the haft-seen photo.
(2) The Fifth Dementia: This is the name of a band formed by dementia patients, when co-founders of the UCLA program MusicMendsMinds stumbled upon the effects of music therapy as a treatment option for ongoing symptoms of Parkinson's. [Sample music] [Story]
(3) No longer identical: When astronaut Scott Kelly returned to earth from a record-setting space mission, he had become different from his formerly identical twin Mark, because some 7% of his genes had changed.
(4) Obama negotiating with North Korea: Bad! Tillerson suggesting diplomacy: Naive! Trump planning to meet Kim Jong Un: Brilliant! [News clips]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Former Irish PM sings the praises of immigrants, as Trump watches with obvious discomfort!
- Pot-to-kettle joke of the day: Donald Trump calls James Comey a liar! [Comey's tweet]
- Former CIA Director John O. Brennan attacks Donald Trump directly, mincing no words! [Brennan's tweet]
- Ex-husband of an employee at Thousand Oak's Oaks Mall kills her but survives attempted suicide.
- Brooklyn Duo's wonderful instrumental version of "Despacito" on cello and piano.
- Four youngsters step up to play "Despacito" on a toe-tap piano.
- For soccer enthusiasts: A beautiful goal that defies geometry and physics.
- Cartoon of the day: Toys 'R' Us, the latest casualty of on-line shopping. RIP! [Image]
- Second cartoon of the day: The Ayatollah's race against time. [Image] [Source:]
(6) Firm working for Donald Trump campaign through Jared Kushner, and which harvested Facebook data for targeted ads, had ties to Russian oil giant.
(7) Hillary Clinton suffered an unjust defeat in 2016, but she is hurting the Democrats now: Her interview in India, where she asserted that people who voted for her are responsible for 2/3 of America's GDP, was elitist and divisive. We take pride in the one-person-one-vote principle, so saying that her voters were "better" is counterproductive. Clinton did win the popular vote, so there was really no need to make such a statement.
(8) Spending a lazy afternoon in Goleta: I am enjoying a lull in my schedule, having finished teaching and grading of homework assignments for the winter quarter, but not having received the students' research papers for my graduate course on parallel processing. At the end of my 2-mile walk from home to Goleta's Camino Real Marketplace, I listened to music by a wonderfully talented musician, before heading back.
["Save the Last Dance for Me"] ["How Sweet It Is"] ["Peaceful Easy Feeling" (The Eagles)]

2018/03/17 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Logo for Springer's Encyclopedia of Big Data Technologies (1) Encyclopedia of Big Data Technologies (EBDT) is taking shape: Many entries in this comprehensive volume, edited by Sherif Sakr and Albert Zomaya, are already available on-line and the full version will be released in early 2019. I served as a co-editor, with Bingsheng He, of EBDT's section on "Big Data on Modern Hardware Systems" and also wrote six of the sections's articles/entries, with the following titles (all of which are available via my Publications Web page):
- Computer Architecture for Big Data
- Data Longevity and Compatibility
- Data Replication and Encoding
- Energy Implications of Big Data
- Parallel Processing with Big Data
- Tabular Computation
Completed entries of Springer's EBDT can be accessed via the Worldwide Web.
(2) The Iranian government, whose thugs have attacked at least three embassies in Tehran, wants to complain to international agencies for the brief takeover of part of its embassy in London by Shi'i followers of Grand Ayatollah Sadegh Shirazi.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Russian hackers have targeted critical US energy infrastructure, including nuclear plants.
- Donald Trump Jr.'s wife, Vanessa, decides to end her 12-year marriage by filing for divorce.
- A brief history of Stephen Hawking, the man who shaped our understanding of the world.
- UCSB scholar Miriam Metzger co-authors a paper about a promising approach to detecting fake news.
- Quote: "It would not be much of a universe if it wasn't home to the people we love." ~ Stephen Hawking
- Iranian Member of Parliament struggles with pronouncing the name of "Louvre Museum."
- Cartoon of the day: The sweeping investigation of Russia's meddling in the 2016 US election. [Image]
- Second cartoon of the day: "They probably got the idea from one of those protesty video games." [Image]
(4) Author, political analyst, and University of Tehran's professor of political science Sadegh Zibakalam has been sentenced to 18 months in prison on charges of propaganda against the Islamic system.
(5) Yesterday's CS Distinguished Lecture: Held at the end of the day-long CS summit on the UCSB campus, which also featured project and research presentations by undergraduate and graduate students (with representatives of local high-tech companies present), the lecture by David E. Culler, UC Berkeley Professor and Dean of the Division of Data Sciences, was entitled "Networked Systems Design for Sustainability in the Built Environment." The talk's focus was on integrated and intelligent ways of controlling the environment in buildings so as to reduce energy consumption. Culler indicated that our challenge is to come up with ways of turning buildings into programmable entities, which would enable the application of innovative software methods to their operation and control. [Three slides]
(6) [Final post for the day] I am still working on my 2018 traditional Nowruz (Norooz) poem. Here is an unrelated Persian verse of mine, presented as a teaser. Despite the delay in completing my Nowruz poem.

2018/03/16 (Friday): Course review: Adams, Jeremy et al., Great Minds of the Western Intellectual Tradition, 84 lectures in the "Great Courses" series (seven 12-lecture parts, each with a guidebook), The Teaching Company, 2000. [My 5-star review of this course on GoodReads]
Cover image for the audiobook course 'Great Minds of the Western Intellectual Tradition' Questions about life and existence have vexed humankind for millennia. I found listening to the arguments about and nuances of these questions intellectually stimulating, even though I had heard them before, including in other "Great Courses" series.
Taught by 12 professors, this grand tour of the most brilliant minds tackling fundamental questions such as reality, purpose of life, God, freedom in the face of causal laws, having power over others, justice, and beauty, describes the bases of the Western philosophical tradition and the fundamental debates that are still raging.
Two cities figure prominently in nurturing these thoughts: Athens contributed inquiry and emancipation, the critical and self-critical spirit; Jerusalem provided the West's mythos and its holy text. The two sets of issues that permeate the Western discourse are the nature of the world and our knowledge of it (metaphysics, epistemology) and guidelines for a contented life (ethics, social theory, politics, existentialism).
Much of what we have today in Western thought can be traced to the contributions of Aristotle, who formulated the four cardinal virtues: Courage; Temperance; Justice; Practical wisdom. The first three virtues would not exist without the fourth. Courage, e.g., is a happy medium between rashness and timidity, as guided by practical wisdom.
The following summary of the 84 lectures in this series provides a good indication of what the course covers.
Part I: Classical Origins (lectures 1-12) [The Pre-Socratics; The Sophists and Social Science; Plato's Metaphysics, Politics, and Psychology; Aristotle's Metaphysics, Politics, and Ethics; Stoicism and Epicureanism; Roman Eclecticism; Roman Skepticism]
Part II: The Christian Age (lectures 13-24) [Job and the Problem of Suffering; The Hebrew Bible; The Synoptic Gospels; Paul; Plotinus and Neo-Platonism; Augustine and Free Will; Aquinas; Universals in Medieval Thought; Mysticism; Luther; Calvin]
Part III: From the Renaissance to the Age of Reason (lectures 25-36) [Machiavelli; More's Utopianism; Erasmus; Galileo and the New Astronomy; Bacon; Descartes; Hobbes; Spinoza; The Skepticism of Pascal and Bayle; Newton and Enlightened Science]
Part IV: The Enlightenment and Its Critics (lectures 37-48) [Locke, Politics, Knowledge; Vico; Montesquieu's Political Thought; Bernard Mandeville; Bishop Berkeley; Hume's Epistemology, Morality, and Religion; Adam Smith; Rousseau's Dissent]
Part V: The Age of Ideology (lectures 49-60) [Kant's Revolution and Moral Theory; Burke; Hegel's Historicism; Marx's Materialism; Mill's Utilitarianism; Kirkegaard's Leap of Faith; Schopenhauer; Nietzsche, Will to Power, and Morality]
Part VI: Modernism and the Age of Analysis (lectures 61-72) [James' Pragmatism; Freud's Human Nature; A. J. Ayer; Max Weber; Husserl's Phenomenology; Dewey; Heidegger; Wittgenstein's Language Analysis; The Frankfurt School; Structuralism]
Part VII: The Crisis of Modernity (lectures 73-84) [Hayek's Critique of Central Planning; Popper; Kuhn; Quine; Habermas; Rawls' Theory of Justice; Derrida's Deconstruction; Rorty's New Pragmatism; Gouldner; MacIntyre; Nozick and Libertarianism]

2018/03/15 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Pollution in Pittsburgh, 1940 Native-American telephone switchboard operator, Montana, 1925 Celebrating divorce, 1930s (1) History in pictures: [Left] Pollution in Pittsburgh, 1940. [Center] Native-American telephone switchboard operator, Montana, 1925. [Right] Celebrating divorce, 1930s.
(2) Virtual kidnapping: This, according to an alert coming from UCSB Police, is an expanding crime category, in which scammers call you, often identifying themselves as members of a drug cartel, claiming that they hold one of your loved ones hostage and demanding immediate payment (often by wire transfer). They try to project a sense of urgency, perhaps by having someone scream or cry in the background, because they know they have a limited window of time before you discover the scam or contact the authorities. Be alert!
(3) Data-assisted → Data-dependent → Data-immersive: "Fifty years ago, we entered a data-assisted world. Today, the world is data-dependent—we can't check out at a store if their data systems are down. Fifty years from today, we will live in a data-immersive world, doing things we have never done before via data's ubiquitous integration into every facet of our lives. This has already begun. Enjoy the ride." ~ David Lomet, Microsoft scientist, concluding his article "The Future of Data Management" in Computing Edge, March 2018
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Multiple fatalities and injuries in collapse of a just-installed pedestrian bridge at Florida Int'l Univ.
- In a direct challenge to Trump's "red line," Mueller subpoenas records from the Trump Organization.
- Freudian typo? Sean Spicer's farewell tweet reads: Rex Tillerson has severed our country well!
- Following scandals due to opening of fraudulent accounts, Wells Fargo CEO is rewarded with a $4.6M raise.
- Borowitz Report (humor): "Vladimir Putin concedes defeat in Pennsylvania's special election."
- Cartoon of the day: David and Goliath, when Parkland students take on the NRA. [Image]
On clothing and other personal choices by women and men (5) [Final thought for the day] A message to men who criticize feminism:
You often claim that feminism is trying to make women look like the photo on the left. Feminism does not try to make women look or dress in this manner but wants them to have the freedom to do so if they wish. You and I are under no obligation to like their choices and, in a free and just society, will be under no obligation to interact with them if we prefer not to.
As a feminist, I like the woman in the middle, Oscar-nominated director Greta Gerwig, and you as an anti-feminist probably like her too, but perhaps for different reasons than mine.
I detest the man on the right, not for the way he looks or dresses, but for the way he thinks. Even then, I recognize the fact that he is a product of a particular environment or culture and, consequently, may not be entirely evil. You, on the other hand, probably like him.
Feminism isn't entirely about women; it's more about human dignity and freedom of choice.

2018/03/14 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Stephen Hawking dead at 76 GIF image for pi day National School Walkout Day, to demand action on curbing gun violence (1) Today in pictures: [Left] Stephen Hawking dead at 76: The British physicist was known for his work on relativity and black holes, and for several popular science books, including A Brief History of Time. Hawking outlived his terminal diagnosis at age 22 by some five decades. [Center] Happy pi day! March 14 is known as pi day, because 3/14 matches the first three of the infinite sequence of digits in pi = 3.141 592 653 589 793 ... [Right] National School Walkout Day: Today, one month after the mass shooting at Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which took the lives of 17 students and teachers, our nation's youth walk out from school to demand action on curbing gun violence and declaring that "thoughts and prayers" won't do. [#enough]
(2) "A Brief History of Time": This engrossing 84-minute film focuses on the life and work of the late cosmologist Stephen Hawking, who possessed a brilliant mind, despite suffering near-total paralysis from ALS. Based on his best-selling book, the film focuses partly on his theories and partly on his daily life, based on interviews with friends and family.
(3) Prime Minister Theresa May indicates that Russia was behind the plot to assassinate a former double-agent by nerve gas and that UK will expel 23 Russian diplomats in retaliation.
(4) Political humor: George Takei introduces a set of commemorative plates for departed Trump administration officials at the end of this Jimmy Kimmel monlogue.
(5) Torture advocates in charge: Both Secretary-of-State nominee Mike Pompeo and his replacement at CIA, Gina Haspel, are apologists for torture, euphemistically called "enhanced interrogation techniques."
Cover image for the book 'Rules Do Not Apply' (6) Book review: Levy, Ariel, The Rules Do Not Apply: A Memoir, unabridged audiobook on 4 CDs, read by the author, Penguin Random House Audio, 2017.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Levy (, who joined The New Yorker as a staff writer in 2008, is well-known for her essays and criticisms, as well as for her book Female Chauvinist Pigs. In this highly personal memoir, Levy, who labels herself as "too much," discusses her insecurities, bisexuality, marriage to a same-sex "husband" (with whom she was deeply in love), and career decisions.
After Levy's meticulously-built unconventional life suddenly fell apart, she picked up the pieces and built a new life in which she was free and empowered to do as she pleased, while recognizing inevitable limitations that make compromise necessary. "I wanted what we all want: everything. We want a mate who feels like family and a lover who is exotic, surprising. We want to be youthful adventurers and middle-aged mothers. We want intimacy and autonomy, safety and stimulation, reassurance and novelty, coziness and thrills. But we can't have it all."
The proliferation of memoirs gives us unprecedented windows into other people's lives and aspirations, so I find myself perusing many such titles. While Levy's account is particularly appealing to women in this age of #MeToo and #TimesUp, and the resulting female ascendancy, many of life's complexities and contradictions discussed by Levy will also benefit men.

2018/03/13 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
A day on the river, 1941 High-voltage power lines almost buried in snow, Siberia, 1960 Testing football helmets, 1912 (1) History in pictures: [Left] A day on the river, 1941. [Center] High-voltage power lines almost buried in snow, Siberia, 1960. [Right] Testing football helmets, 1912.
(2) New earthquake warning systems will save lives: Radio signals emitted from an earthquake's point of origin can reach population centers seconds before the actual shaking.
(3) There is a very proper version of English which is referred to as "King's English": We are now graced with "President's English"! Disgust is too mild a word to describe my reaction. [Photos, and Tom Brokaw's tweet]
(4) FCC did not sanction the launch of tiny satellites, because they are too small for proper monitoring and create risks for other spacecrafts, but a California start-up launched them anyway.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- US Secretay of State Rex Tillerson ousted and replaced by CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
- Serial bomber sought in Texas for killing 2 and injuring several more with 3 packages containing bombs.
- Turkey's direct involvement Syria: Turkish forces have encircled Afrin, a stronghold of Kurdish militia.
- Distinguished computer scientists, a mother and daughter, featured on "People of ACM."
- The US not standing up to Putin has made him more brazen in assassinating opponents and defectors.
- The year women became eligible to vote, by country. [World map]
- Francis Fukuyama, of the "End of History" fame, believes that Iran is headed toward a social explosion.
- Super Mario Bros (1985) "Coin Sound" scoresheet.
- Boy-King Tut's tomb is under study with new radar technology to resolve age-old mysteries. [Graphic]
- United flight attendant forced a family to put pet dog in the overhead bin; the dog didn't survive the flight.
(6) Isn't it odd for a US president to visit a state and not meet with its governor? Jerry Brown tries to overcome this barrier by writing a letter to Trump the day before his visit to the Golden State.
(7) Why the future of computing is analog (from the Greek "analogon," meaning "model"): Analog computers, which were sidelined when digital computers began to offer greater robustness and higher precision, are making a comeback. One key reason is analog's better energy efficiency. Today's top supercomputers consume megawatts of electric power; the comparably powerful human brain draws only 20 watts. Another reason is the benefit of specialization. Connections in analog computers are hard-wired; there is no need for instruction fetch and memory access, along with their time and energy penalties. Analog computers are massively parallel by nature, without all the overheads of digital massive parallelism. [Source] [MIT blog] [Wired article]

2018/03/12 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover of 'National Geographic' April 2018 issue (1) Black and white twins challenge our notions of race and racism.
(2) Mandatory evacuation orders have been issued for some Santa Barbara County areas in anticipation of tomorrow's rainstorm. Emergency crews and high-water vehicles have been pre-positioned in the area. US 101 may be closed with little prior notice as a preventive measure.
(3) For a guy who tweets about everything and everyone, including Alec Baldwin, Oprah, Meryl Streep, Chuck Todd, and anyone else who criticizes him, Trump has been awfully quiet about Stormy Daniels.
(4) Quote of the day: "In five-billion years, as the Sun begins to die, its outer layers of glowing plasma will expand stupendously, engulfing the orbits of Mercury, then Venus, as the charred ember that was once the oasis of life called Earth vaporizes into the vacuum of space. Have a nice day!" ~ Neil deGrasse Tyson
(5) The global seed vault in Norway: After adding 70,000 new crops to this doomsday collection, which will allow the human race to recover in the event of a global catastrophe, the total number of crops in the vault now exceeds 1 million. [Source: Time magazine]
(6) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- British PM accuses Russia of crime or criminal negligence in use of a nerve agent to kill a former Russian spy.
- A former Netanyahu confidant has turned state witness against him in corruption probe.
- Super-deep diamond reveals never-before-seen minerals from Earth's mantle.
- Berkshire Hathaway got a $29 billion windfall for 2017 as a result of recent changes to the US tax code.
- Iran's premier female film director: Rakhshan Bani-Etemad is a darling of both the people and film critics.
- Magic prank: How wonderful that this older couple has found the magic of playing and laughing together!
(7) Labor laws in the age of crowd-work: Crowdsourcing (the practice of obtaining information or input into a task/project by enlisting the services of a large number of people, either paid or unpaid, typically via the Internet) is becoming increasingly important in scientific research. According to Google Scholar, the number of papers that use the term "crowdsourcing" grew more than 20-fold from 2008 to 2016. As crowdsourcing becomes even more prevalent, the nature of the relationship between project administrators and the people doing the work must be examined more closely. Do labor laws apply in this domain? Should we set a minimum wage? How is work quality assessed for the sake of payment and continuation? Do workers need protection, as an increasing number of them rely on crowd-work as a primary income source? Can/should crowd-workers organize? For thoughts on these issues and references to other articles, see: M. S. Silberman, B. Tomlinson, R. LaPlante, J. Ross, L. Irani, and A. Zaldivar, "Responsible Research with Crowds: Pay Crowdworkers at Least Minimum Wage," Communications of the ACM, Vol. 61, No. 3, pp. 39-41, March 2018.

2018/03/11 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Banner for Farhang Foundation's Nowruz celebration at UCLA (1) Farhang Foundation's celebration of Nowruz and the Iranian New Year at UCLA: The program included various free musical performances, dances, and children's activities, along with a costume parade, from 12:00 noon to 5:00 PM. A 6:00-PM ticketed Royce-Hall concert by Mojgan Shajarian concluded the program. [Photos] Mamak Khadem performed a Kurdish song, a second song, and "Aamad No-Bahaar" ("Spring Has Arrived"). She then yielded the stage to two young singers who perform "Shaaneh" ("Comb") and followed up with another Kurdish song. Beginning at 3:00 PM, there was a "Spring Walk" in colorful costumes, with music. Performances by LA Daf Ensemble and Djanbazian Dance Academy concluded the open-air part. Beginning at 6:00 PM, a highly enjoyable concert by Mojgan Shajarian was held in the fabulous Royce Hall. Shajarian, who had replaced Sima Bina at the last minute, because of Bina being denied a US entry visa, performed several standards and a few of Sima Bina's songs, concuding with "Morgh-e Sahar" ("Dawn Bird"), a signature song of her father. In her introductory remarks, she apologized for any problems arising from a lack of rehearsal time and took off her traditional head cover (dastaar) in solidarity with Iranian women who are fighting for their freedoms and against mandatory hijab laws. [Video 1] [Video 2] [Video 3] [Video 4]
(2) Trump is reportedly furious with Sarah Huckabee Sanders for inadvertently confirming (by revealing Trump's winning in arbitration) that there was a non-disclosure agreement between him and Stormy Daniels.
(3) Puzzle: Anthony was born on March 1, but he does not know the day of the week on his original day of birth. His mom, a mathematician, tells him that he was born in a year that had exactly 53 Saturdays and 53 Sundays. On what day of the week was Anthony born?
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Jeff Sessions redefines Justice: He criticizes federal judges for slowing Trump's national agenda!
- The three women hostages killed by a gunman at a California veterans home identified.
- Following Iran's lead, Houthis sentence a Yemeni Baha'i to death.
- Kim Jong Un and his dad got Brazilian passports under fake names in the 1990s to visit the West in secret.
- Trump has many, many, many friends: Believe him ... not! [2-minute video]
- Quote of the day: It's an amendment, not a commandment!" ~ Bill Mahr on the Second Amendment
(5) Saturday night's concert on the UCSB campus: UCSB's Middle East Ensemble performed in a program that in part celebrated Nowruz and the Iranian New Year. Special guest Bahram Osqueezadeh (UCSB Persian music lecturer) led the Ensemble in three Persian songs, with guest vocalist Siamak Bozorgi. Also, Besnik Yzeiri presented a rousing violin solo. Other parts of the program included a 5-piece Arabic music set, a 3-piece Turkish music set, and various dances. As usual, the ensemble had done a great job with a detailed program booklet, containing song lyrics, translations, and historical notes. ["Kereshmeh" Persian dance] [Persian song: "Sargashteh" ("Wanderer")] [Persian music piece: "Quatrains in Bayat-e Tork"; three seh-tars (9-tars?) and vocals] [Persian song: "Hamcho Farhad" ("Like Farhad")]

2018/03/10 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Fake snow on the Giza Pyramids (1) Snow on the Giza Pyramids after many decades? No, just another fake image on social media, leading to many re-tweets and Facebook reposts!
(2) Fake news spreads faster and wider than real news, according to new research findings. [This may be due to the fact that fake news stories are designed to be inflammatory and thus more likely to be shared by those who are predisposed to believing them, as opposed to arising from an inherent attribute of falsehood.]
(3) Threatening near-Earth object: A 1600-ft asteroid, with a 1 in 2700 chance of colliding with earth over the next century as it repeatedly zips by, may be deflected through a powerful nuclear explosion.
(4) The days of fossil fuels may be numbered: Within a couple of years, energy-storage companies such as Tesla will be allowed to compete in the wholesale electric-energy market against traditional suppliers.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Russia endangers Brits by using nerve toxin to poison ex-spy: Haz-mat crews working on assessing risks.
- China's Xi makes himself leader for life, as Trump looks on wistfully!
- Noteworthy quote: "Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow." ~ Helen Keller
- Noteworthy quote: "No one gossips about other people's secret virtues." ~ Bertrand Russell
- Robotic scarecrows: This wolf robot howls to protect farms. It's a bit too scary for kids, though.
- Is it winter or spring? Nature can't decide! [Photo]
- The strongest predictor of how long you will live isn't your weight or your exercise habits.
(6) Even in the age of #MeToo, rape victims are being shamed: Lawyer for Yale student accused of rape asks the victim what she was wearing, how much she had had to drink, and why she held hands with the accused as they walked on campus.
(7) A new scientific finding by a science-hating administration: According to Trump's Secretary of the Interior (the one who had a $130K office door installed), wind power leads to global warming, you know, the same phenomenon which is a Chinese hoax!
(8) International Women's Day at the White House: Dudes are everywhere in this March 8 photo, including on the walls. There's just one woman in the photo, and she is either a note-taker or a translator.
(9) Quantum-dot TV displays: The future of TV displays was supposed to be simple, progressing from LCDs to OLEDs (organic LEDs), which are brighter, sharper, and thinner. Enter the quantum-dot technology and you are faced with many new options and a dizzying list of acronyms, including QD, QUHD, SUHD, and ULED!

2018/03/09 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover of Time magazine, issue of March 12, 2018 (1) Oscar-nominated Greta Gerwig leads by example: The director of "Lady Bird," a film about the life of a teenage girl, represents the new-found power of women, in front of and behind the camera, as Hollywood finally finds its conscience.
(2) Courageous singers: Those who are born and raised in the West do not consider singing an act of bravery. But for Iranian women, singing has always been deemed a disreputable endeavor. Over the last four decades, in particular, women's voices and bodies have been viewed as profane and sinful, to be kept under wraps. This 7-minute video is an ode to brave singing women who have defied this twised world view.
(3) Interesting trends: Some of the following claims aren't strictly true, but still some head-scratching is warranted!
- Airbnb: World's largest accommodation provider owns no real estate
- Alibaba: World's most-valuable retailer has no inventory
- Bitcoin: World's biggest bank has no actual cash
- Facebook: World's most popular media owner creates no content
- Uber: World's largest taxi company owns no vehicles
(4) Puzzle: Mark has a favorite analog clock which, unfortunately, has lost its minutes hand. The hour hand is currently aligned exactly with minute 23. What time is it?
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Corruption and waste: Ryan Zinke bests Ben Carson's $31K dining set with $139K office door!
- Trump Organization ordered 12" replicas of the US Presidential Seal for use as golf course tee-markers.
- Kim Jong Un joked about his bad image abroad during dinner with South Korean officials.
- Women are receiving a larger number of college degrees than men, at all levels, but the pay gap remains.
- Following USA Gymnastics, USA Swimming is under scrutiny for a culture of sexual abuse spanning decades.
- Joke of the day: Trump administration has requested funds to promote abstinence-only sex education!
- Winter Olympics top-three medal counts: Norway (39), Germany (31), USA (23). [Source: Time magazine]
- Thursday's spectacular sunset, with interesting cloud patterns, at the end of a spring-like day in Goleta.
(6) The best things in life are free: Tonight's final post shows you how this belief of mine was reaffirmed when I attended a free community concert at the Isla Vista Elementary School, a 10-minute walk from my home. Singer/songwriter Gaby Moreno performed songs in Spanish and English, accompanied by electric and bass guitarists and a percussionist. With a warm, sultry voice and amazing stage presence, Gaby mesmerized both adults and fidgety kids, had them sing along, and persuaded them to dance (with limited success, except at the final rock-n-roll tune). I never cease to be amazed by exceptional talent I encounter in unexpected places.
[A blues tune] ["Quizas, Quizas, Quizas"] [A song she wrote about immigrating from Guatemala to US] [A Disney theme song] [Another song] ["Somewhere over the Rainbow"] [A rock-n-roll song]
[Publicly available music videos from Gaby Moreno: NPR Music's Tenth Anniversary Concert; NPR Music's Tiny Desk Concert; At the 2015 Hispanic Heritage Awards]

2018/03/08 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
A very happy International Women's day to everyone Cartoon of the day: International Women's Day in Iran Not sure whether this image represents the setting of injustice or the dawn of freed! (1) In honor of March 8: [Left] A very happy International Women's day to everyone, male or female, who believes that women's rights are human rights and that full equality between men and women is the only path to a prosperous and peaceful world. [Center] Cartoon of the day: International Women's Day in Iran. (Source: [Right] Not sure whether this image represents the setting of injustice or the dawn of freedom!
(2) A kind of anthem for Women's Day and women's rights: "Break the Chain" (Lyrics by Tena Clark; Music by Tena Clark and Tim Heintz) [Facebook post with full lyrics]
(3) Message on a Chinese mom's iPhone, after her toddler entered the wrong passcode repeatedly: "iPhone is disabled, try again in 25,114,984 minutes." [That's 47 years, in case you're wondering!]
(4) Quote of the day: "Don't compete against Israelis or we'll break your legs." ~ Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps, addressing Iranian athletes going to international competitions
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Dire news on Women's Day: Iranian anti-hijab protester sentenced to 2 years in prison.
- Iranian women celebrating the 2018 International Women's Day aboard Tehran's metro.
- Malala Yousafzai talks with David Letterman about women's rights. [1-minute video]
- McDonald's turns its arches upside-down to celebrate women.
- Persian poem by Shokoufeh Taghi. [Facebook post]
- Picture worth 1000 words: The agony of Syrian kids. [Photo: Time magazine, issue of March 12, 2018]
- My talk of Monday 3/05 featured on the Web site of Razi University, Kermanshah.
- Persian music: Soheila Golestani sings "Ghesseh-ye Faramoosh" ("Forgotten Tale").
- Invitees to Trump's meeting on video-game violence did not include a single psychologist or scientist!
- Borowitz Report (humor): Trump says he has been treated very unfairly by people who wrote Constitution.
(6) Report on a technical talk: Professor Mahnoosh Alizadeh spoke this afternoon under the auspices of UCSB's Institute for Energy Efficiency. Her talk, "Electric Vehicles and a Modernized Grid: Opportunities and Challenges," covered a number of opportunities brought about by the increasing availability of real-time sensing and communication technologies. Alizadeh discussed pricing and vehicle routing schemes that allow power and transportation networks to cooperatively minimize the carbon footprint of electric vehicles by providing incentives to drivers to charge EV batteries at locations with abundant energy and minimal grid congestion and to corporations for coordinating autonomous EV fleets. Alizadeh's work is highly mathematical, but this afternoon, she focused on the big picture and consequences of her models, rather than their mathematical underpinnings. [Photos of the speaker and two of her slides]
[P.S.: What can be more empowering on this Internatiobal Women's Day than a young female faculty member presenting a prestigious technical talk on the energy-efficiency aspects of transportation systems?]
(7) World Music Series: UCSB's Son Jarocho Ensemble performed at the Music Bowl, yesterday. Each of the guitar-like instruments used is carved out of a single piece of solid wood; no connections, no glue. Many school children were present, prompting the Ensemble to perform "Los Ninos, La Ninas" in their honor. There was also teaching of tap-dancing to children and adults and a performance of "La Bamba". [One more song]

2018/03/06 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Tehran University's top graduates, 1968 (1) Tehran University's top graduates, 1968: Several classmates and I appear in this photo, showing first- and second-ranked graduates honored in various disciplines. The photo was sent to me by a friend in anticipation of our 50th anniversay reunion gathering in Armenia, during July 2018.
(2) Just wondering: Why would a person accepting an Oscar on behalf of a team only thank people who apply just to him/her and not to the entire group?
(3) Too much information: During discussion of blood types in a biology class, a young woman indicated that her blood type is AB, her dad's is O and her mom's is A. The teacher tells her that she must be confused, as this is impossible. Digging further, she discovers that her mom had had an affair with her dad's half-brother!
(4) Chelsea Clinton talks to Stephen Colbert: About the state of her friendship with Ivanka Trump, her new book, and many other topics, all in complete paragraphs, like her parents (as pointed out by Colbert).
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- The Vatican is overwhelmed with exorcism requests, so a private exorcism industry is filling the void.
- Officers were called to a daycare facility in Iowa, which gave the kids Gummy Bears laced with Sleep Aid.
- China's out-of-control space station will hit the Earth (likely in a northern US state) within weeks.
- Another Russian spy is poisoned in the UK: Defectors and Putin's critics face similar fates.
- Gary Cohn, Trump's economic advisor, resigns over disagreements on tariffs.
- Cartoon of the day: Trade war results in trading Trump for smart, female president! [Image]
- Pieces of a statue of King Ramses II found in southern Egypt's Temple of Kom Ombo.
- Team of international archaeologists uncovers thousands of ancient Mayan structures using aerial lidar.
- Flying with the birds: An up-close and personal view of majestic birds while flying along with them.
- Why would anyone give $130,000 to another person to keep quiet about something that never happened?
(6) Trump tweet about the Oscars' poor ratings: To the delight of conservatives, who hate it when women and non-Whites speak up. You know and we know that you are not "just kidding," Donald!
(7) The two Koreas seem to be making progress in their direct talks: Meanwhile, Trump takes credit for the thaw. He may be right, in the sense that distrust of him is bringing the archenemies together!
(8) Signing off with a few photos showing the audience at Razi University of Kermanshah during my remote Skype talk of Monday 3/05, entitled "Expanding the Understanding of Modern Technology among Students in Non-Science/Tech Majors." Thanks go to Dr. Amir Rajabzadeh for extending the invitation and Ms. Fereshteh Mousavi for handling the technical aspects of the talk, before and during the presentation.

2018/03/05 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Poster for today's remote Skype talk at Razi University, Kermanshah, Iran (1) Today's remote Skype talk at Iran's Razi University: The talk, entitled "Expanding the Understanding of Modern Technology among Students in Non-Science/Tech Majors," Monday, Esfand 14, 1396, 9:30 AM (Sunday, March 4, 2018, 10:00 PM PST), kicked off the technical seminar series for Razi University's newly established Faculty of Modern Sciences and Technologies.
Abstract: Literacy and numeracy, introduced long ago to define the skill sets of a competent workforce, are no longer adequate for the twenty-first century. We need what is described by the rarely-used term "techeracy," which is loosely equivalent to "grasp of technology." Just as numeracy is fundamentally different from literacy, there are key differences between the scopes and requirements of techeracy and numeracy. Achieving techeracy requires a further shift away from story-telling and word problems, used to instill literacy and numeracy, toward logical reasoning, as reflected in the activity of solving puzzles. In this talk, I draw upon my experience with teaching a freshman seminar to non-science/tech majors to convey how a diverse group of learners can be brought to understand the underpinnings of complex science and technology concepts. Once the basics are imparted in this manner, learners become empowered to pursue additional science and technology topics through suitably designed self-contained study modules.
Title slide (Persian, English); Slides (PowerPoint, PDF); ASEE 2018 conference paper (non-final draft).
(2) Wise quote of the day: "Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship." ~ Buddha [Note: This quote may or may not be from Buddha, but it's good advice regardless.]
(3) Idiotic quote of the day: "As long as young women work in stores, we have coed universities, and female professors lecture to male students, our society will never be cleansed." ~ Isfahan's Friday Imam [Meme]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Russia claims the US is meddling in its election: Oh no, our 'deep state' is upsetting Donald's good friend!
- Part of the story of why Jared Kushner can't get a full security clearance: Too many shady deals in his past.
- Hundreds of thousands remain without power days after severe windstorm on the US East Coast.
- Alibaba's machine-learning-based traffic management system to be rolled out in Malaysia.
- Virtual-currency theft: Japanese authorities raid the headquarters of Coincheck Inc. to investigate.
- Oh no! All hope is lost for Middle East peace, now that Jared Kushner seems to be leaving the White House!
(5) Status of DACA applicants in California: According to a directive from UC President's Office, despite lack of Congressional action, today's deadline for DACA applicants has no significance in California, given that the court has ruled in favor of University of California against the Trump administration, effectively reinstating DACA.
(6) Academy Awards, 2018: Acting categories led to predictable results. Frances McDormand and Gary Oldman (lead roles); Allison Janney and Sam Rockwell (supporting roles). Best film ("Shape of Water") and best director (Guillermo del Toro, for "Shape of Water") held the only surprises among the major award categories. [List]
[People of color winning Academy Awards in five major categories: Look at the last line of this chart!]
[Inclusion rider: In accepting the Oscar for best actress in a leading role, Frances McDormand mentioned that top actors should insist on an "inclusion rider" in their contracts, a statement that puzzled most people. The rider stipulates that in small and supporting roles, characters should include 50% gender parity, 40% people of color, 5% LGBTQ, and 20% disabled, that is, casting should be representative of the world we live in.]

2018/03/03 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Window washer, New York City, 1961 The first Disneyland ticket sold, 1955 Paris Library flooding, 1910 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Window washer, New York City, 1961. [Center] The very first Disneyland ticket sold, 1955. [Right] Result of Paris Library flooding, 1910.
(2) Iranian Christians have become what in Persian is called "the stick with two golden ends": Endangered at home and unwelcome in the US.
(3) Trump often says that if someone throws punches at him, he punches back ten times harder: So, where is the punch-back after Putin's announcement that he now has an "indestructible" hypersonic nuclear ICBM and showed a simulated video of it heading toward Florida? Is he afraid to punch back? Does he punch back only against weaker adversaries, such as Kim Jong Un?
(4) Econ 101: Not one leading economist believes that imposing tariffs is good for our economy as a whole. At best, tariffs benefit some parts of the economy, while penalizing many more segments, including consumers, who will pay directly or indirectly for the original tariffs and those imposed in retaliation.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Student at Central Michigan University fatally shoots both parents on campus before fleeing.
- US East Coast's massive nor'easter storm has caused 7 deaths so far. [>Pictorial report]
- Europeans are skating on ice-covered canals!
- NRA's Russian ties: Alexander Torshin cultivated ties with NRA leaders, in part to gain access to Trump.
- People who wish Trump had run to shooting scene unarmed vastly outnumber those who believe he would.
- At $2358/sf, this $2M Sunnyvale home set a record: The buyer, a young Silicon Valley techie, paid all cash!
- Terah Lyons: A young leader in artificial intelligence, dubbed AI's superhero.
- A vocal-only nostalgic Persian song: "Dush Dush Dush".
- Meme of the day: Reality beats the weirdest made-up satire. [Image]
- First, came questions about Melania's parents' chain migration. Now, there's the puzzle of her "Einstein Visa."
(6) Humor: Stephen Colbert goes to Capitol Hill to have a redacted version of his classified memo released and to learn about ongoing Russia investigations. Committee members play along!
(7) Account of world's largest family tree published in the journal Science: Project leader Yaniv Erlich (a Columbia University computer scientist) and colleagues downloaded 86 million profiles from a collaborative genealogy website and used mathematical analysis to organize the data. The resulting vast family tree includes around 13 million people and spans 11 generations on average.

2018/03/01 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Persian calligraphy with ballpoint pen, by Ali Farahani (1) Persian calligraphy with ballpoint pen, by Ali Farahani.
(2) Evacuation orders: Some 30,000 residents of Montecito and surrounding areas are warned to evacuate ahead of a storm that is about to arrive in the Santa Barbara area. The Red Cross has set up an evacuation center at the Earl Warren Showgrounds. Pre-emptive closure of US 101 is a possibility.
(3) Idiotic quote of the day: "How many Jews were put in the ovens because they were unarmed?" ~ Donald Young, Republican Congressman from Alaska and NRA Board Member
(4) Astrophysics news: A ground-based radio antenna in western Australia has detected evidence of the earliest-known stars that illuminated an infant universe just 180M years after the Big Bang.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Putin taunts the US with "You will listen to Russia now!" as he deploys a hypersonic ICBM capability.
- Former prison driver, about to start working for Uber, may have sexually assaulted 100+ female inmates.
- Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump rumored to be on their way out of the White House.
- After meetings held at the White House, Jared Kushner's family business received $500 million in loans.
- US Forest Service, with its relatively few female employees, under scrutiny for sexual misconduct culture.
- Iranian Music: Azeri song about Nowruz, from a year ago. [Video]
- Meryl Streep's reaction when she loses at the Oscars: Likely won't happen this year! [GIF images]
- Sony World Photography Awards: This photo is on the shortlist of 25 entries.
- Cartoon of the day: It's a bird, it's a plane, it's BS-man! [Image]
- Borowitz Report (humor): Sarah Huckabee Sanders organizing 'Million Liars March' to support Hope Hicks.
(6) The REAL ID Act: Beginning on October 1, 2020, the feds will require your driver's license or identification card to be REAL-ID-compliant if you wish to use it for boarding an airplane or entering military bases and most federal facilities.
(7) Deadly winter storm, dubbed "weather bomb," hits the eastern US: Hope everyone stays safe! Here in Santa Barbara, we are bracing for possible flash-floods from heavy rains in recent burn areas.
(8) Jared Kushner, the whiz kid who was going to fix everything, fades into irrelevance: He will likely go back to the private sector, where he will try to fix his failing family business.
(9) A final thought: Did you notice that February 29 flew by without any new scandals from the White House?

2018/02/28 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image for the book 'Trump Revealed' (1) Book review: Kranish, Michael and Marc Fisher, Trump Revealed: An American Journey of Ambition, Ego, Money, and Power, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Campbell Scott and Marc Fisher, Simon and Schuster Audio, 2016. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
In late March 2016, with both parties' nominations still unresolved, a group of Washington Post reporters embarked on a 3-month project to research the major candidates' backgrounds, for this book and other publications, including some 30 articles.
I previously reviewed The Making of Donald Trump, by David Cay Johnson (unabridged audiobook, Blackstone Audio, 2016), which I consider much less comprehensive, not as thoroughly researched, and not as balanced as the book by Kranish and Fisher. Here is my 3-star review of the former book on [GoodReads]
Seasoned journalists Kranish and Fisher cover every aspect of Donald Trump's life, including his privileged upbringing, relationship with power-broker Roy Cohen, aggressive and often risky bets, dealings with organized crime, lack of personal friends (he has only business contacts), and penchant for winning at all cost. For Trump, politics is just another way of being in the news and grabbing headlines. He has no ideology, changing political affiliation seven times, as he jockeyed for a position from which to satisfy his presidential ambitions.
Even this most-balanced book about Trump comes across as negative. It isn't the authors' fault: the man is a large collection of contradictions and questionable behavior to get ahead, crushing rivals and shortchanging those who helped him rise. His record since becoming US President confirms many of the negative traits enumerated in this and other books about him. Yet, to about one-third of Americans who revere Trump, no revelation about him seems to be considered disqualifying, as they brush off each negative story as part of the overarching conspiracy against him.
If you read only one book about Trump, make it this one, as it presents a complete and journalistically sound picture of him up to 2016. I am looking forward to the conclusion of the Russia probe to learn the rest of the story about Trump's rise to power.
(2) Lehigh University faculty vote to revoke Trump's honorary degree: "By staying silent we are bystanders; we normalize hate speech, condone discrimination and bullying."
(3) Jumping ship: Long-time Trump aide Hope Hicks quits her White House position, supplying one of her white lies as explanation.
(4) Punching bag punches back: Attorney General Jeff Sessions has tolerated many Trump insults in the past but in the case of the latest insult, he struck back by daring Trump to fire him.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Cool temps in SoCal and a storm arriving tonight: Evacuation warning issued for recent burn areas.
- Journalist slain in Slovakia, along with his girlfriend, was investigating the government's Mafia links.
- Trump hasn't ordered NSA to disrupt Russian hacking. [Of course! Why would he hurt his re-election odds?]
- Kushner stays, despite loss of access to top-secret material, but the Kelly-vs-Trumps war is intensifying.
- Man posing as ride-sharing driver arrested and charged with raping seven Los-Angeles-area women.
- Impish quote of the day: "I use social media like a grown-up." ~ Michelle Obama
(6) UCSB's Gamelan Ensemble performed in today's Music Bowl noon concert, as part of the World Music Series. I will not post any videos, given that I have shared this type of Indonesian music fairly recently.

2018/02/27 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Coca Cola ad made by spreading grain for pigeons in St. Mark's Square, Venice, 1960s Announcement of the 'Harry Potter' cast in 2000 Black cat auditions, Hollywood, 1961 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Coca Cola ad made by spreading grain in St. Mark's Square, Venice, 1960s. [Center] Announcement of the "Harry Potter" cast in 2000. [Right] Black cat auditions, Hollywood, 1961.
(2) Monica Lewinsky, 20 years after her humiliation by the Clintons, Ken Starr, and the media: Vanity Fair report, with Persian commentary by Farnaz Seifi.
(3) Quote of the day: "I cannot support a person who routinely breaks the third, seventh, ninth, and tenth Commandments." ~ Jim Sathe of Idaho Fall, in his letter to the editor of Post Register
(4) Political commentary: Trump seems to have evolved from "I am the president and everyone should do as I say" to "Just let me be the president, and I'll do whatever you say."
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Threats and vandalism against Jews in the US approached record levels in 2017, jumping 57% over 2016.
- Talk of gun-safety laws fizzles in the US Congress two weeks after the Florida school tragedy.
- John Kelly strips Jared Kushner of his temporary top-secret security clearance.
- Dolly Parton celebrates the donation of 100-millionth book by her literacy program, "Imagination Library."
- Humor: POTUS awards himself a Medal of Honor for a hypothetical act of courage. [Image]
- Humor: Librarians are campaigning for the use of silencers if it is decided that teachers should be armed!
- UCSB Middle East Ensemble's concert on March 10 will feature a Persian segment in celebration of Nowruz.
- A blind Iranian stone-worker continues to create precision objects at age 80. [3-minute video, in Persian]
(6) Analog data and computing make a comeback: For those who might be interested, here is the 7th of 8 weekly homework assignments for my graduate-level UCSB course on parallel processing, which for winter 2018, is focused on big-data hardware challenges:
For several decades now, the world has moved continuously to replace analog data with digital data, given the latter's robustness and affinity with digital computing. We read in the reference for HW4 that the share of digital data increased from near-zero to more than 90% in the period 1986-2007. There are now hints in the literature that in some cases, use of analog data and analog computing may be beneficial, as we grapple with big data and related applications. Find two on-line sources which discuss the advantages of analog data/computation or advocate greater attention to analog in the age of big data, and present a capsule summary of your sources in the form of a single PowerPoint slide. Briefly discuss how analog computing will interface with parallel processing in a second slide. Put your two slides on a single page of a PDF document.
[Follow the 1-6-6 rule in each PowerPoint slide: A slide should contain one main idea, 6 or fewer bullet points, and 6 or fewer words per bullet point (but don't take these numbers too literally; they are just guidelines). Avoiding bullet points is even better. Diagrams are always preferable. The slide title should read like a headline about the main idea. For example: "Revenue to Rise 25% for 2018" instead of "Revenue Projection for 2018"]
(7) Final thought for the day: "Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice, and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do." ~ Soccer superstar Pele

2018/02/26 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image for Neal Branscomb's 'Sabotage' (1) Book review: Bascomb, Neal, Sabotage: The Mission to Destroy Hitler's Atomic Bomb, unabridged audiobook on 5 CDs, read by Jason Culp, Scholastic, 2016.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This book covers what has been described as the greatest act of sabotage during World War II. After Germans invaded Norway in a stealth night-time operation, they instituted martial rule, and at Vermonk, a chemical plant high above a towering gorge, they set out to produce heavy water for their nuclear-bomb program. The allies learned about the German plan and agreed that the plant must be destroyed, but a British operation failed to stop the dangerous development.
The mission to sabotage the nuclear-bomb fortress then fell to a group of young Norwegian commandos, equipped with skis, explosives, and not much else. The commandos waited for months in the snowy wilderness, enduring bone-chilling temperatures, getting by with meager rations, eluding Nazi patrols, and looking for an opportunity to strike. The commandos' first mission did not set back the Germans as much as they had hoped, so they had to finish the job with a second mission. The rest, as they say, is history, though not a particularly well-known part of it.
Several years ago, Paramount Pictures acquired the rights to make this book into a movie, but I couldn't find the current state of the film project on-line.
(2) Trump has pledged to improve background checks for gun buyers. Let's hope he does better here than for White House staff background checks!
(3) War photographer Max Desfor dead at 104: He won a Pulitzer Prize for this 1950 photo, which shows hundreds of Korean-War refugees crawling across a damaged bridge.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Ten days after the school mass-shooting in Florida, a gun show in Tampa attracts record attendance.
- SCOTUS refuses to hear request to overturn lower-court ruling that DHS continue to accept DACA apps.
- Trump wants to name his personal pilot as head of FAA. [And his chauffeur as Transportation Secretary?]
- Trumpian diplomacy: Handbag designer with interim security clearance talks N.Korea sanctions with S.Korea!
- Kabob and hummus identified as omnipotent foods for the prevention of mental disorders! [Meme]
- Subway construction in Greece reveals ancient Aphrodite statue, stunning mosaics, and other treasures.
- Stone tools unearthed in India resemble those in Africa, challenging theories on ancient human migration.
- Calligraphic variations on "eshgh," the Persian word for love. [Images]
- Borowitz Report (humor): "Trump orders parade to celebrate his hypothetical act of heroism in Florida school."
(5) Time magazine's entire March 5, 2018, issue is devoted to "The Opioid Diaries," a 60-page in-depth report on the current state of the addiction crisis in the US. Black-and-white photographs scattered throughout the report accentuate the darkness that prevails over the lives of addicts.

2018/02/25 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Newly engaged John Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier, 1953 Los Angeles traffic, 1950 Woman reading in Paris, 1952 (1) History in pictures, the early 1950s: [Left] Newly engaged John Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier, 1953. [Center] Los Angeles traffic, 1950. [Right] Woman reading in Paris, 1952.
(2) The new tax law has dozens of bugs: Republicans want to fix the bugs as early as next month, but Democrats are in no mood to help, given that they were totally shut out from the process of writing the bill.
(3) An epic intelligence failure: The Florida school mass-shooter could and should have been stopped. He did not live off the grid. Far from it, his activities and threats were splattered all over the social media and official police records.
(4) Printable Oscars ballot: You can mark your choices, as you watch the 90th edition of the Academy Awards Ceremony on ABC (hosted by Jimmy Kimmel), on Sunday March 4, 2018, beginning at 5:00 PM PST.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Heavily redacted Democratic Intelligence Committee memo finally released: Here is the full text.
- Irony: Republicans supported lavishly by the NRA accuse activist youth of being paid to oppose guns!
- Mexico's president postpones his White House visit after receiving a testy call from Trump.
- Banners in Los Angeles announce the arrival of Nowruz and Farhang Foundation's celebration on March 11.
- Boycott of NRA continues to spread: United and Delta are the latest to join.
- Beijing to NYC in 2 hours: Chinese scientists propose a plane that would fly at 5 times the speed of sound.
- Mahatma Gandhi: "Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony."
- US men's gold medal in curling has renewed fascination with scientific theories behind the Olympics sport.
- Four interesting images and memes from around the Internet.
- Nurikabe: An interesting puzzle, reminiscent of Minesweeper. [Puzzle and instructions in this image]
(6) Michelle Obama's memoir, Becoming, to be published by Crown in late 2018. The former First Lady will read the audiobook version. International publishers will release the book in a multitude of other languages.
(7) Ziba Shirazi's concert at Santa Monica's Morgan Wixson Theater: Entitled "Songs of My Life," tonight's Persian/English biographical program included songs the Iranian songstress, poet, and feminist grew up with. Danny & Farid (guitars and some vocals) and a percussionist accompanied Ziba on this magical night. Ziba alternated between telling stories of her growing up in Tehran's Davoudieh neighborhood and singing songs that she enjoyed and learned to sing during her childhood and youth. The musical part was a tour-de-force of Iranian pop music that resonated with the sold-out crowd. Ziba described her family (including 4 siblings), schooling, marriage, motherhood, and divorce, leading up to 1985, the year she immigrated to the United States; she promised a second installement of her musical bio covering the last 3+ decades. Throughout the concert, images of artists whose songs she sang were projected on the screen, including photos from when they performed the songs, newer photos showing the older artists, and factual tidbits about them. Don't miss this highly enjoyable concert if it comes your way! [Photos]

2018/02/23 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Teacher holding a gun in front of a chalkboard (1) Teachers with guns: So, you want underpaid, under-appreciated, stressed, and resource-deprived teachers to also act as security guards? Are you aware that as in any other profession, there are sickos among teachers too? What about janitorial staff at schools? Should they be armed? College professors? Ushers at movie theaters and concert venues? This Trump proposal is NRA's dream come true: Turning a tragedy into a major uptick in gun/ammo sales, instead of restrictions on gun ownership!
(2) Farhang Foundation's March 11, 2018, Nowruz celebration at UCLA: In addition to the ticketed 6:00 PM Royce Hall concert by Iranian folk singer Sima Bina, there are lots of free performances and activities (including appearances by Mamak Khadem and LA Daf Ensemble), from noon to 5:00 PM at UCLA's Dickson Court.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Mueller files 32 new charges against Manafort and Gates; Gates pleads guilty to two of the charges in a deal.
- McMaster will be leaving the White House soon. Of Kelly and Kushner, one will likely depart as well.
- US State Department waters down or removes language on women's rights from its human rights report.
- Hubble Space Telescope data indicates a faster-than-expected rate of expansion for the universe.
- Canadian women's ice-hockey team disappointed to lose the Olympics gold medal to the US.
- After an 8-day hiding period, the NRA chief comes out swinging with blanket rejection of any new gun laws.
- Sign banning guns outside CPAC, where NRA's head was speaking: Don't they have good guys with guns?
- On March 18, Russians will go to the polls to elect their president. Can you guess who will be elected?
- Brigham Young University's male-only panel discusses women in math!
- Long-awaited Amtrak commuter service will begin April 2 between Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties.
- Quote of the day: "The absurd does not liberate, it binds." ~ Albert Camus
- Facebook's reminder from February 23, 2016: Jasmine vines on my carport trellis 2 years ago, and today.
(4) Final thought for the day: The real hoax is the theory that if the US government decides to take away your rights, you and your gun-owning buddies can stop it!

2018/02/21 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Concentric disks Flags of the world Abstract leaves (1) Colorful designs: [Left] Concentric disks. [Center] Flags of the world. [Right] Abstract leaves.
(2) White Houses: A novel by Amy Bloom, based on the now well-known 1930s secret love affair between Eleanor Roosevelt and journalist Lorena Hickok, is amassing critical acclaim.
(3) Hollywood recognizes the box-office draw of action heroines: Co-stars of the sci-fi thriller "Annihilation" began as artistic colleagues and ended up as political colleagues. From left in this photo, Tessa Thompson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Natalie Portman, and Gina Rodriguez. [Photo credit: Time magazine]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Trumpian logic: The Russia thing is a hoax! Sessions should investigate Obama for not confronting Russia.
- Uber CEO: Self-flying taxis will be launched through Uber Elevate in the next five to 10 years.
- An icon, whose time had passed, passes: Evangelist Billy Graham dead at 99.
- George/Amal Clooney and Oprah Winfrey each donate $500K to students organizing the "March for our Life."
- Daylight saving time may end or become permanent: Europe and the US are considering legislation about it.
- In the aftermath of Thomas Fire, Montecito residents will face more evacuations in the next few years.
- Five killed in violent clashes between protesting Gonabadi dervishes and Iran's police forces.
- Khamenei apologizes for "injustices" to protesting masses he had previously labeled "troublemakers."
- Iranian parliament member: People should be happy about cutting off hands as punishment. [Cartoon]
(5) Noon concert at UCSB's Music Bowl: The Very Lonesome Boys performed bluegrass/country music today, as part of the World Music Series. The band began with a disclaimer about some of their lyrics from early/rural American music being "borderline offensive" and joked that they carry signed statements to this effect for anyone who's interested! One band member indicated that he had done one of these noon concerts at UCSB 55 years ago (with a different band)! Here are samples of the music the band performed today.
["Everybody Does it in Hawaii"]   [A swing-style blues tune]   [A Texan love song]
[A banjo tune]   [An old-time fiddle tune]
(6) Cudamani, Gamelan and Dance of Bali: Tonight, I attended an enjoyable concert at UCSB's Campbell Hall, featuring an ensemble of 20+ musicians and dancers from Indonesia. Video recording was disallowed, so, as a sample, I post a 10-minute YouTube video here. In her intro, the group's announcer indicated that they were lucky to get all the required visas in time for their US visit.
(7) Final thought for the day: Knock these Florida teens as much as you want, but until they got involved, politicians paid only lip service to school safety.

2018/02/19 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Gang of girls, Estonia, 1930s A pickup truck flees the largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century, Philippines, 1991 Woman with a gas-resistant pram, London, 1938 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Gang of girls, Estonia, 1930s. [Center] A pickup truck flees the largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century, Philippines, 1991. [Right] Woman with a gas-resistant pram, London, 1938.
(2) Today is US President's Day: Too bad we don't have a sitting President whom we can celebrate. The one now acting as our president could not even stay presidential over the President's Day weekend! So, here's to all great men who have made us proud as Presidents and even those who tried nobly, but failed to do right.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Meme of the day: There are more President's-Day clearance items than the ones shown in this photo!
- More than 100 killed in Syrian government's assault on Damascus suburb. [Update: 200+ killed]
- One month left to Nowruz (Norooz): Spring equinox and Persian New Year 1397. [Image, with detaied info]
- Persian music: Bahar Choir performs "Shaadi" ("Joy"), featuring a poem by Rumi.
- Some Muslim women are sharing stories of sexual abuse at Hajj and other religious venues. [#MosqueMeToo]
- Women in Tech: #HereWeAre
- If it's too early to talk about the school shooting in Florida, how about discussing shootings from years ago?
- For someone who considers himself a ladies' man, Trump sure paid a lot of money for sex!
- A teacher's notes to his/her students put up in the classroom. [Photo]
- Refrigerated parking garage in Slovenia, where the country's Olympic teams trained. [Photo]
(4) Diplomatic child-play: In retaliation for DC authorities renaming the street in front of the Russian embassy after Boris Nemtsov, a critic of Putin who was assassinated, Russia has renamed the street in front of the US embassy "North American Dead End"!
(5) Final thought for the day: Some Republicans are now saying that teenagers don't have opinions of their own and they have been paid to speak up against guns! A Texas school district will reportedly suspend students who walk out to demand sensible gun laws. It is now responsible kids vs. irresponsible adults!

2018/02/18 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Kids leaving school bus in combat gear 'New York Post' front page School chair, with gun-shaped desk (1) Three images to impress upon you the dire situation with regard to gun violence in US schools.
(2) Wishing everyone a great day in celebrating love in all its shapes and forms; yes, one more time, a few days after Valentine's Day! Happy Sepandarmazgan, the ancient Iranian festival of love!
Some history: Sepandarmazgan is the ancient Iranian day of love during which both romantic love and love of nature are celebrated; a sort of combination Valentine's and Earth Day! This annual celebration is dedicated to Spanta Armaiti, the feminine angelic spirit of the Earth. It was originally held on the 5th day of Esfand in celebration of mothers/wives, including Mother Earth. The festival's currently popular date of Bahman 29 (coinciding with February 18 this year) emerged after multiple reorganizations of the Persian calendar, beginning with the work of the Persian philosopher/poet Omar Khayyam. [Wikipedia]
(3) Remembering my father 26 years after his passing: I had written this bilingual text five years ago, when our family commemorated the 21st anniversary of his passing. Then, as today, the family gathering to mark the occasion coincided with Sepandarmazgan (see the previous blog entry). Some call it the ancient version of modern Valentine's Day, but not everyone agrees. What better day to declare our love for a great man!
(4) A verse celebrating love, by the great Iranian poet Sa'di: If I break your love's bonds, where can I flee / For freedom away from you is captivity and life without you, prison [Original Persian version]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Plane with 66 passengers, flying from Tehran to Yasuj, has disappeared; wreckage has not been found.
- The Florida school mass-shooting brings about the #MeNext? movement on social media.
- How to mobilize Republicans against children dying in our schools: Change the word "school" to "uterus"!
- Meme of the day [Image]: Also, other countries have mentally ill people, but not as many mass shootings.
- Wife reunited with husband, imprisoned in Iran for 10 years due to refusing to renounce his Baha'i faith.
- How to contribute to politicians who think now isn't the time to discuss gun violence. [Check image]
- Answer to the argument that gun laws limit only law-abiding citizens, because criminals don't obey laws.
- Quote: "A healthy attitude is contagious, but don't wait to catch it from others. Be a carrier." ~ Tom Stoppard
- Cartoon of the day: US budget allocation process. [Image]
- Memories from an early department store in Tehran, which opened in 1957. [2-minute video]
(6) Trump thinks the world revolves around him: He can't even discuss the Florida school mass shooting, without making it about his own fat behind! [Trump tweet and a response]
(7) Bill Gates was interviewed by Fareed Zakaria this morning: One of the first things he offered was an explanation of why we feel so distraught at the current state of the world. His optimistic explanation, which I like very much, is that part of our anxiety comes from our rising expectations about fairness and justice, not necessarily because things are getting worse. For example, once we decide that gay people deserve to be treated like all human beings, bias and discrimination against them eats at our soul.
(8) [Signing off with some political humor] Donald Trump: "So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed." Bill Maher: "Yes, we saw; he was wearing a MAGA hat!"

2018/02/17 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Group photo 1 from mid-1967, showing many members of the class of 1968, Fanni College's Electromechanical Division, University of Tehran Group photo 2 from mid-1967, showing many members of the class of 1968, Fanni College's Electromechanical Division, University of Tehran (1) A couple of group photos from mid-1967, showing many members of the graduating class of 1968 (1347 in Iranian calendar), Fanni College's Electromechanical Division, University of Tehran. The group is planning a 50th anniversary gathering in June or July 2018, likely in Turkey or Armenia.
(2) Thoughts and prayers are cheap: Trump blames mental illness, and even classmates who did not report the gunman's erratic behavior, but last February, he revoked a law that restricted gun purchases by the mentally ill.
(3) Correction: After the Florida school mass-shooting, I posted a widely circulated claim on social media that it had been the 18th school shooting this year. Everytown, an anti-gun-violence organization which originated the claim, explains on its website that it defines a school shooting as "any time a firearm discharges a live round inside a school building or on a school campus or grounds." As such, the number included several incidents where no student or staff life was in danger.
(4) The "Russia hoax" gets very real: Sixteen Russian nationals/entities indicted for meddling in the US election. Separately, senior figure in the Trump campaign Rick Gates is said to be ready to cooperate fully with Bob Mueller's investigation.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- An earthquake of magnitude 7.2 jolted southern Mexico yesterday. It also shook Mexico City.
- Santa Barbara County man helped Russians acquire fake American identities for the 2016 election meddling.
- Russian agents paid American women to attend Trump rallies as Hillary Clinton dressed in prison uniform.
- Dreamers' fates in limbo, as US Senate rejects all four immigration proposals.
- Kelly may have been hinting at Kushner's ouster when he vowed to reform WH's security clearance process.
- Melania hiding in the aftermath of new affair allegations: She reportedly likes books and "her private space."
- Marco Rubio, NRA apologist, is toast in the aftermath of the Florida school mass-shooting. [Meme]
- Cartoon of the day: A new category of toys, featuring hundreds of political "inaction figures." [Image]
(6) Pianist Saman Ehteshami plays Persian music: "Soltaan va Shabaan" ("The King and the Shepherd"); "Nasim" ("The Breeze"); "Ageh Yeh Rooz" ("If Someday"); and here's his playlist on YouTube.

2018/02/16 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Volvo's ad for its invention, the 3-point seat belt, 1959 Car Show, 1950s Coupe de Ville, Los Angeles, 1964 (1) Car-related historical photos from the 1950s and 1960s: [Left] Volvo's ad for its invention, the 3-point seat belt, 1959 (Volvo licensed the invention to other car manufacturers free of charge). [Center] Car Show, 1950s. [Right] Coupe de Ville, Los Angeles, 1964.
(2) Happy Chinese New Year: All the best to those celebrating the new year, as we begin the year of the dog!
(3) This week's Santa Barbara Independent shines a light on the culture of sexual assault in the student community of Isla Vista, adjacent to the UCSB campus. Cover image]
(4) The Borowitz Report (humor): "Study: Americans Safe from Gun Violence Except in Schools, Malls, Airports, Movie Theatres, Workplaces, Streets, Own Homes" [Source: The New Yorker]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- How America has failed miserably in protecting its children. Our record is a disaster! Sad.
- The man who cut taxes for corporations and the super-rich has proposed a gas tax hike to pay for his plans!
- Reince Priebus is the latest WH departee to tell horror stories about the dysfunctional administration.
- Russian pro-gun bots flock to Twitter in the aftermath of the Florida school mass shooting.
- FCC reviewing SpaceX's application to offer satellite Internet service in the United States.
- US Department of Energy creates new office for cyber, energy security.
- Removal of a single enzyme shown to reverse Alzheimer's disease in mice, benefiting also the offspring.
- Some genes stay active even after we die, a finding that opens up new possibilities for forensic science.
(6) Homework assignment: The following is the 5th of 8 weekly assignments for my graduate-level course on parallel processing, ECE 254B, at UCSB. Some of you might find it interesting to try it on a voluntary (ungraded) basis! Consider the "5 Vs" of big data (1. Volume; 2. Variety; 3. Velocity; 4. Veracity; 5. Value; see my blog post of 2018/01/29 for details). Establish a one-to-one mapping between these "5 Vs" and the following five American-English idioms involving straw and hay. Explain your choice of association briefly in each case. Don't worry that the connection isn't direct or very relevant in every case. Just try to make the best possible assignment of a different "V" attribute to each idiom.
a. Clutching at straws    b. Finding a needle in a haystack    c. Making bricks without straw
d. Straw that broke the camel's back    e. Turning straw into gold
(7) Phone case helps with monitoring blood sugar: UCSD engineers have created a smartphone case, along with an app, for blood glucose monitoring on the go. The device consists of a slim 3D-printed case with a permanent, reusable sensor in the corner and small, single-use pellets that attach to the sensor with a magnet.

2018/02/15 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Audrey Hepburn, with pet deer Pippen, 1958 Marilyn Monroe, 1950s Elizabeth Taylor with a bird sitting on her head, 1948 (1) Iconic Hollywood beauties with trademark smiles, as young women: [Left] Audrey Hepburn, with pet deer Pippen, 1958. [Center] Marilyn Monroe, 1950s. [Right] Elizabeth Taylor with a bird sitting on her head, 1948.
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Baltimore Sun: How serving a belligerent POTUS turns ordinary, family-loving Americans into monsters.
- Florida school-shooting survivor challenges us to act like "adults" and enact gun-safety measures.
- Congresswoman Katherine Clark's powerful message of apology to future victims of gun violence.
- Mass shootings (1966-2012) vs. the number of guns: Do you see any correlation? [Chart]
- "New theory suggests gunman ... was assisted by 51 Senators and 298 Representatives." ~ Sarah Perry
- Black-Sea storm washes up Roman ruins on Turkish beach.
- Threat of in-prison "suicide": A new strategy of Iran's Islamic rulers for silencing activists.
- Cartoon of the day: Not a very happy birthday for Iran's Islamic Revolution. [Image credit:]
(3) An Architect's Point of View on Emerging Technologies and the Future of Digital Computing: This was the title of today's talk by George Michelogiannakis (Research Scientist, LBNL), who wondered aloud about what awaits us once we achieve exascale computing power in the 2021-2023 time frame. As one slide shows, all performance indicators will flatten out by then, bringing about a need for greater innovation at all levels, from devices, through assemblies, to architecture. Tools at our disposal include emerging transistor technologies, new types of memory, 3D integration, photonics, innovative on/off-chip networks, and specialization.
(4) Laurence Olivier's "Hamlet" at UCSB's Pollock Theater: The screening, part of the "Shakepeare on Film" series, was followed by a discussion with Professor Mark Rose (right, in one of these phosos). What a feast for the eyes and ears! [Video 1] [Video 2: Play within the play]
(5) My extended beach walk [Photos]: On Wednesday, low tide allowed me to take the beach path home from work. I found the walk so invigorating that I took a detour and extended the walk from the normal 2.5 miles to 5.0 miles. Near the end of the walk, I took a tumble, when I tripped over some roots sticking out of the ground. All is fine, though; just a few scratches! I also shot a 2-minute video of the ocean, with coastal rocks, which surfers have to negotiate when they surf at high tide, exposed.

2018/02/14 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Red and white hearts for Valentine's Day Happy Valentine's Day to my three children Colorful hearts for Valentine's Day (1) Wishing everyone a great day in celebrating love in all its forms and shapes. Happy Valentine's Day!
(2) Millimeter-scale robots: Tiny robots that jackhammer their way through the body have already been tested on lambs and goats, guided by magnetic fields from outside. "Fantastic voyages" of biomedical discovery in the human body aren't far away.
(3) Not Your Father's Analog Computer: This is the title of an article in IEEE Spectrum (issue of February 2018) that discusses how analog devices, with their simplicity and energy efficiency, are making a comeback, particularly in applications involving machine learning and biomimetic circuits, where high accuracy, the forte of digital circuits, is not required.
(4) Programming with a slide-rule: This is one of the lesser-known details in the history of digital computing. A circular slide-rule allowed Univac II programmers to figure out where on the surface of a continuously rotating drum memory to place the next instruction, so that it would be available for fetching and execution immediately after the current instruction has run to completion (by then, the drum has rotated a bit).
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Another school shooting, with 17+ dead: Yes, send thoughts and prayers, and forget the tragedy tomorrow!
- Iran's downed drone over Israel was based on Lockheed Martin RQ-170, which crashed in Iran in 2011.
- Driving was a start. Now, Saudi women need jobs: 107,000 women applied for 140 jobs open to them.
- Iranian-Canadian environmental activist dies in prison following his arrest in Iran.
- Autonomous delivery vans will hit the streets much sooner than self-driving cars.
- Face recognition offerd greater accuracy for white men, a result of biased data sets driving the software.
- Deaf musician performs a song on "America's Got Talent." Inspiring!
- Bravo Canada, for replacing "all thy sons" in the lyrics of its national anthem with gender-neutral verbiage!
- The top-10 megastructures of Dubai: Unprecedented ambition and scale marks these 10 building projects.
- Taipei, Taiwan, has become home to fascinating architectural styles, blending nature, art, and high-tech.
(6) Female graduates of Iran's Sharif University of Technology rule: I have encountered quite a few of them during job interviews and faculty recruitment seminars. They are as bright as they come and, just like their male counterparts, are highly sought after within graduate studies programs, as faculty candidates, and in the high-tech industry. I don't have access to any hard data, but my guess is that SUT's female graduates are at least twice as likely to leave Iran and seek professional opportunities elsewhere. And the reason isn't difficult to understand. While these women are celebrated worldwide, in Iran, they have to mind their hijabs, refrain from laughing in public, and curtail their aspirations of landing plum jobs in academia or in government. Those who suppress these women's talents are doing their homeland a great disservice!

2018/02/13 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cartoon: Iranian democracy The lone tall palm tree I see, as I walk home from work Cartoon: Fighting the women activists in Iran (1) Three interesting images: [Left] Iranian democracy. [Center] The lone tall palm tree I see, as I walk home from work: Normally, trees grow taller than usual when they seek the sun over surrounding plants. Why this one grew so tall is unclear. [Right] Fighting the women activists in Iran. (Image credit:
(2) The Wonder of Women (WOW) Summit at UCLA: Lisa Kudrow will emcee this all-day event on Wednesday, May 2, 2018. Featured speakers include Candice Bergen, Tipper Gore, and Diane English. There is no on-line source for additional information yet, but details will follow, according to an e-mail announcement.
(3) Transmission lines are increasingly going underground: Denmark and Germany have mandates to avoid overhead high-voltage lines. Puerto Rico is burying power lines in areas that tend to get the strongest gusts. However, underground routing of high-voltage AC lines is tricky because of the greater heat they produce.
(4) A unique UCSB Arts & Lectures program I am looking forward to: The Huayin Shadow Puppet Band, with Wu Man, the world's premier master of the pipa (Campbell Hall, Thursday March 8, 2018, 8:00 PM).
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- The pattern continues: Deficits fall under Democratic administrations and rise under Republicans. [Tweet]
- White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders is emulating Sean Spicer in attacking the press.
- The WH was repeatedly briefed on FBI's background check of Rob Porter and domestic abuse allegations.
- UCSB Professor Elizabeth Belding named one of ten stars in computer networking and communications.
- Chloe Kim, America's new Olympics sweetheart, is the daughter of Korean immigrants.
- New York Times: Universities to bring "medicine-like morality" to computer science. Me: Oh no!
(6) Quote of the day: "It's disappointing that such an iconic women's brand @Guess is still empowering Paul Marciano as their creative director #metoo." ~ Kate Upton, on rampant sexual misconduct in the fashion world
(7) A welcome change to remove Facebook News Feed pollution: According to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook will revise its News Feed algorithm over the next few months to promote "meaningful social interactions" via shifting away from public content by companies and media and toward posts by family and friends.
(8) My afternoon stroll: I often post photos/videos of Santa Barbara's gorgeous sunny days, as I go on my daily walks. Today, after a long stretch of spring-like days, we experienced winter, which, for SoCal, means temps in the 50s! The nature is no less beautiful on cloudy days, though. [18 photos] [2-minute video]

2018/02/12 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
What future archaeologists might find in Iran (1) Political statement: What future archaeologists might find in Iran. [Image credit:]
(2) Sunday, February 11, 2018 (Bahman 22, 1396, in the Iranian calendar) was the 39th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution taking hold in Iran. Nearly four decades of despotism, chaos, ineptitude, deception, and corruption. Will we see the reign of terror celebrate its 40th anniversary?
(3) A Honda sports-car model with see-through wheels allows a peek at the brake mechanism and its inner workings. Fascinating! [Photographed on 2/09 at SB Honda]
(4) Netherlands first, second, and third: Jokingly apologizing to Trump for contradicting his "America First" slogan, the country swept the medals (a first in Olympics history) in women's 3000-meter speed skating.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Russian passenger plane crashes near Moscow, killing all 71 on board: Crash cause is still unknown.
- A Pennsylvania forty-something woman wrote letters to Trump six times a week, for an entire year.
- The Trump family gives publishing another try with a magazine called (what else?) "Trump."
- Bannon: Women will punish Trump in future elections, given his cavalier dismissal of abuse allegations.
- Melania Trump follows only 5 Twitter accounts: POTUS, Donald, Mike Pence, Karen Pence, Barack Obama.
- Cartoon of the day: The American version of Tiananmen Square. [Image]
- On my way to class, as we begin winter quarter's 5th week: Do you see any winter in these photos?
Cover image of the audiobook 'The Unbearable Lightness of Being' (6) Book review: Kundera, Milan (translated by Henry Heim), The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Richmond Hoxie, Harper Audio, 2012. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
The story in this Czech novel flips back and forth between the lives of two men (a surgeon, torn between love and lust, and an idealistic professor), two women (a photojournalist, who is married to the surgeon and tolerates his infidelities, and her husband's free-spirited artist mistress, who is also involved with the kind and compassionate professor), the surgeon's estranged son, and a dog. The story happens during the Prague Spring of the late 1960s, in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and three other Warsaw-Pact countries.
Kundera masterfully mixes his description of life's prosaic events with philosophical musings about existence, political activism, and the human condition. The "lightness" of the title refers to the fact that life events happen but once, so they should not be taken seriously, whereas human beings are obcessed with heaviness: burdens they carry and difficulties they face. The single-occurrence hypothesis means that we can't make thoughtful decisions, because there is no basis for comparison.
Political circumstances force the surgeon to abandon his prestigious position and work as a general-practitioner for a while, eventually becoming a window-washer, struggling all along with pressures to sign a statement of regret over an opinion piece he had published earlier.
This 1984 philosophical-fiction title was not published in Czechoslovakia until a year later. In 1988, the book was made into a film bearing the same title and starring Daniel Day Lewis, Lena Olin, and Juliette Binoche. Kundera condemned the film as bearing no resemblance to his novel and the characters therein, vowing never to allow adaptations of his work again.

2018/02/11 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image of 'Communication of the ACM,' February 2018 issue (1) Communication of the ACM, February 2018 issue: In their cover feature, "The Next Phase in the Digital Revolution," John Zysman and Martin Kenney argue that intelligent tools simultaneously replace, transform, and create work. Whether deployment of intelligent tools and platforms will augment human skills or replace humans as workers depends, in part, on social and political choices.
(2) Quote of the day: "[One of the hardest things about being sick is other people trying to explain your suffering. I'd prefer people] who hug you and give you impressive compliments that don't feel like a eulogy. People who give you non-cancer-thematic gifts. People who just want to delight you, not try to fix you, and make you realize that it is just another beautiful day and there is usually something fun to do." ~ Kate Bowler, mother with an incurable cancer diagnosis, in an interview with Time magazine about her new book, Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I've Loved
(3) My reply to a friend who noted that Trump talks about abuse and sexual assault as if he's Dr. Seuss:
Oh, chum, there's no need to jab them; Let me teach you how you can grab them.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- If you were in or close to the recent fire areas, your car may need new engine and cabin air filters.
- [VP Pence on military parades] N. Korea's: Displaying menacing threats. Trump's: Celebrating our military.
- Sima Bina will perform at Farhang Foundation's March 11 Nowruz (Norooz) celebration at UCLA.
- Donald Trump believes the men, always; unless they're Democrats, in which case the accusers are credible!
- Mihaela Noroc shows with her camera that beauty is much more than is shown on magazine covers.
- Cartoon of the day: Trump wants Americans to return to the moon. [Image: From E&T magazine]
- Next for Trump: An "Eye-Candy Army Unit," a la "Little Rocket Man"? [Photo]
(5) Authorities in Tajikistan have shut down hundreds of unregistered mosques in the past decade: Suspected of preaching extremism, the mosques have been converted to housing for the homeless or are being used for various public functions.
Cover image of the audiobook 'Argo' (6) Book review: Mendez, Antonio and Matt Baglio, Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled off the Most Audacious Rescue in History, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Dylan Baker, Penguin Audio, 2012.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
I was rather disappointed with the action-packed film version of "Argo," because of its inaccuracies in portraying the political climate in post-revolution Iran and its depiction of Iranians as either hateful revolutionaries or simpletons who had no clue. The book is much more realistic in its portrayal of the events that led to the escape of six Americans trapped in Iran, and sheltered in the homes of two Canadian diplomats, in the aftermath of hostage-taking at the US Embassy.
Assuming fake identities, the Americans pretended to be part of a Hollywood team, which had traveled to Iran to scout locations for the sci-fi film "Argo." The imaginary film had a script, a made-up production company in Hollywood (in case the Iranians decided to call to check their cover story), and fake resumes and background documents for the six Americans. CIA agent Antonio Mendez, who was the mastermind of the audacious plan, acted as the pretend scouting team's leader, publishing his secret plan and its execution details more than three decades after it was carried out.
The six houseguests, and the two US intelligence agents who went to Iran to extract them. left Tehran without a hitch on a Swiss Air flight, via Mehrabad Airport; there was no suspicion on the part of Revolutionary Guards stationed at the airport, no frantic phone calls to the airport guards to reveal the escapees' identities, and no chasing of the plane on the runway to prevent it from taking off, as depicted in the film version!
The aftermath of the escape was just as interesting as the escape plan itself. Canada arranged for its diplomats to leave Iran and closed its embassy for fear of retaliation, once the story leaked out. In fact, at least one reporter was already aware of the escape plan before it was carried out, but he agreed to keep a lid on the story so as not to endanger the Americans' lives.

2018/02/10 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Street in Birmingham, Alabama, 1940s Many centuries ago, a cat walked over an Italian manuscript, leaving its paw prints on the document forever, 1445 A fisherman in Istanbul, 1930 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Street in Birmingham, Alabama, 1940s. [Center] Many centuries ago, a cat walked over an Italian manuscript, leaving its paw prints on the document forever, 1445. [Right] A fisherman in Istanbul, 1930.
(2) Quote of the day: "Facebook has a lot of work to do—whether it's protecting our community from abuse and hate, defending against interference by nation states, or making sure that the time spent on Facebook is time well spend ... We won't prevent all mistakes or abuse, but we currently make too many errors enforcing our policies and preventing misuse of our tools." ~ Mark Zuckerberg, on his personal challenges for 2018
(3) A first for Iran, after 4 decades of Islamic rule: School girls dance in traditional local dresses. I hope teachers and school administrators who allowed this celebration are not imprisoned.
(4) David Brooks, the compassionate, intellectual conservative: I like David Brooks and listen to his analyses on the Friday night editions of PBS Newshour. Yet, on this opinion piece about abortion, I side with Cheryl Axelrod and her letter to Brooks. I remember someone once saying that men should not opine on abortion. While the latter proclamation is perhaps too extreme, reading musings like those of Brooks, I start to wonder.
(5) Are people dying younger these days? Scanning the obituary section of this week's Santa Barbara Independent, I noticed that a quarter of those listed were born in the mid- to late-1940s (around my age) and another quarter were born in the 1960s (~2 decades younger).
(6) Santa Barbara and UCSB product Jack Johnson's benefit concert for Thomas Fire and Montecito Mud-flow victims sold out yesterday within hours. The concert will be at Santa Barbara Bowl on Sunday, March 18.
(7) Metal parts printed in 3D: Nearly all 3D printers use metal powder to shape metal objects. The parts thus formed are susceptible to defects, which make them unsuitable for heavy-duty use in aerospace and automotive industries. Newly proposed modifications to the 3D-printing process for metal parts allow the production of super-strong parts for heavy-duty use.
(8) World's biggest battery in South Australia: Built by Elon Musk's Tesla to store energy during high wind-turbine electricity production for use when the winds die down, the 100MW/129MWh installation was completed in an impressive two months after the contract was signed.
(9) [Final thought for the day] Mr. Trump: If you really believe that your aide, Rob Porter, is innocent, why did you dismiss him? Why didn't you help him fight the unfounded allegations and sue the defamers, instead of whining about them in the following tweet? By the way, it's "people's," not "peoples."
[@realDonaldTrump: "Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused &emdash; life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?"]
[P.S. 1: Suddenly, Trump cares about lives being shattered, while he has shattered many lives by inhumane bans against this or that group.]
[P.S. 2: There WAS a due process for Rob Porter. FBI investigated him for months and informed the WH about "credible" allegations against him.]

2018/02/09 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Hard disk ad, 1981 Colorized photo of NYC Lower East Side, 1890s Oldsmobile Cutlass coupe, 1954 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Hard disk ad, 1981. [Center] Colorized photo of NYC Lower East Side, 1890s. [Right] Oldsmobile Cutlass coupe, 1954.
(2) Nuclear powers and their arsenals. [Time magazine map] Nuclear warheads in round numbers:
~7000: USA, Russia   ~300: France, China, UK   ~100: Pakistan, India, Israel   ~10: North Korea
(3) Quote of the day: "Anyone caught involved in voter fraud should be immediately deported and have his citizenship revoked." ~ Ben Carson, US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
[How is it possible to revoke the citizenship of illegal aliens? Or, to where would we deport citizens?]
(4) After months of bragging about the record-setting rise of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, Trump now criticizes the Dow for its record-setting fall, which is, of course, treasonous: "In the 'old days,' when good news was reported, the Stock Market would go up. Today, when good news is reported, the Stock Market goes down. Big mistake, and we have so much good (great) news about the economy!"
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Caltrans may close US 101 before the next storm hits, if there is a danger of mud flow in Montecito.
- Cartoon of the day: The next Macy's Parade! [Image] [From: The New Yorker]
- "No love for you": Pakistan bans media coverage of Valentine's Day.
- Meme for our time: Flag-waving, with no regard for truth or human dignity. [Image]
- Chain migration is bad, but not for Melania Trump and her sister Ines, who brought their parents over.
- A sobering thought: Whenever you add an item to your resume, try to also add something to your eulogy.
(6) Only about 4% of crime reports are false, according to the FBI: So, domestic violence allegations are overwhelmingly more likely to be valid than made-up. When there is material evidence (photographs, court orders) and multiple corroborations, the fraction of false reports decline even further. Yet Trump, in talking about Rob Porter, the disgraced high-level White House staffer who resigned, stressed his denial, praised his character, and wished him well in his career. Trump did the same for Roy Moore, which isn't surprising, given allegations of sexual misconduct against Trump himself. General Kelly has offered to resign over the scandal.
(7) This study was conducted at the UCLA lab where my daughter works: Based on an article published in Science and a follow-up clinical trial, Newsweek magazine reports on the potential for using antibiotics to treat autism and mental disorders.
(8) Santa Barbara International Film Festival honors Allison Janney and Margot Robbie for their starring roles in "I, Tonya." Both actresses have also received Oscar nods for their roles.
(9) Lebanon isn't a country, but a place full of people, seemingly thrown together at random: This article from five years ago (which I first posted on February 9, 2013) is still an interesting read, because Lebanon remains an amalgam of diverse communities, barely seeing eye to eye.

2018/02/07 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The original Mickey and Minnie Mouse costumes in 1939, before Walt Disney had them redesigned for Disneyland in 1955 Opening day at Disneyland, 1955 Greta Garbo and the MGM lion, 1925 (1) History in pictures: [Left] The original Mickey and Minnie Mouse costumes in 1939, before Walt Disney had them redesigned for Disneyland in 1955. [Center] Opening day at Disneyland, 1955. [Right] Greta Garbo and the MGM lion, 1925.
(2) Trump (SOTU): "We have sought to restore the bonds of trust between citizens and their government."
Fact: Trust in government has dropped 14 points to 33% during Trump's 1st year. (Edelman Trust Barometer)
(3) Trump is 100% fake: From his hair and facial tan, through his wealth, religiosity, marriage, patriotism, dealmaking skills, presidency, to the bone spurs in the heels that he faked to dodge the draft in the 1960s.
(4) Quote of the day: "Data indicate that it would be nearly impossible for a physically unattractive female instructor teaching a large required introductory physics course to receive as high an evaluation as that of an attractive male instructor teaching a small fourth-year elective course for physics majors, regardless of how well either teaches." ~ Mark Guzdial, on sexism and other biases that make student teaching evaluations unreliable (Communications of the ACM, issue of February 2018)
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Magnitude-6.4 earthquake topples buildings in Taiwan, killing or trapping many residents.
- Two Time magazine cover images: "America Alone" (Feb. 5); "Making America Nuclear Again" (Feb. 12).
- "Let Trump be Trump" means it's okay for POTUS to betray, backbite, brag, berate, belittle, and bully.
- Trump's evangelical adviser: Inoculate yourself with the word of God; Jesus stops you from getting the flu.
- So, Trump wants a parade "like the one in France"? Well, I'd like a real president "like the one in France."
- Artificial intelligence vs. natural compassion: It's not a competition; we need them both!
- This building in Germany produces music, as rainwater flows down the pathways on its facade.
- Vanity Fair thinks that Trump should embrace his baldness: It would be a sign of strength.
(6) Lengthy interview with Quincy Jones: Jones is a wonderful musician, but he stumbles all over the place in this interview. Examples include believing in a Kennedy assassination conspiracy, refusing to comment about the behavior of his friend Bill Cosby, accusing Michael Jackson of stealing songs, opining that the Beatles were awful musicians, claiming that he dated Ivanka Trump, and so on. Interesting read nonetheless!
(7) Quote of the day: "I can't think of a safer place to explore complex emotions for the first time than inside the pages of a book, while sitting in the lap of a loved one." ~ Matt de la Pena, defending the presence of dark themes in kids' books (Time magazine, issue of February 12, 2018)
(8) The Uber of healthcare: Doctors on wheels may be visiting patients at their homes or workplaces, while charging less for the required treatment, if start-ups working on revolutionizing healthcare succeed.
(9) Today's "World Music Series" concert at UCSB's Music Bowl: Dannsair, "Traditional Dance Music of Ireland" [Video 1] [Irish Polka from the movie "Titanic"] [Video 3] [Video 4] [Video 5 featuring a soprano vocalist]

2018/02/06 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The top hat worn by Abraham Lincoln the night he was shot Pierre and Marie Sklodowska Curie, preparing to go cycling, 1890s The swimming pool that used to be beneath the White House Briefing Room, 1946 (1) History in pictures: [Left] The top hat worn by Abraham Lincoln the night he was shot. [Center] Pierre and Marie Sklodowska Curie, preparing to go cycling, 1890s. [Right] The swimming pool that used to be beneath the White House Briefing Room, 1946.
(2) Quote of the day: "But now we have fulfilled far more promises than we promised." ~ Donald Trump, assessing his first year in office [I wish he had listed the promises he had not made but fulfilled!]
(3) Give Trump credit for consistency: All his statements are as accurate as his inauguration-crowd-size and his SOTU-ratings claims. Can you imagine how much discipline Mueller must have not to say a word about Trump's claim that Nunes memo exonerates him?
(4) Flipping the Senate not at all a sure bet: Of the 34 seats up for re-election, 25 are currently Democratic and only 9 are Republican. Democrats must win all of their current seats, plus all three of the Republican seats that are deemed toss-ups. Please vote! [Chart]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Pharmacies in a town of 3000 were sent 21 million prescription painkillers by drug companie, 2006-2016.
- Hundreds of Russian bot accounts joined pro-Trump forces in the #ReleaseTheMemo movement on Twitter.
- Trump (2013): Obama isn't American. Trump (2018): Democrats who don't applaud me are treasonous.
- The bigger, better Rocket Man: Trump wants a military parade along Pennsylvania Avenue!
- General Kelly shows that he is a great match to Trump: "[Dreamers are] too lazy to get off their asses."
- Picasso style through the years. [Poster]
- Nothing makes the mullahs in Iran more nervous than vocal women who stand up for their rights. [Image]
- Mexico is negotiating with Trump about paying for the border wall, but wants a slight change in its position.
(6) Spring in early February: Yesterday, near UCSB's Storke Tower, blossoms and fog were reminders that Norooz (Nowruz) is just around the corner. Saal tahveel or spring equinox, when the Persian New Year 1397 celebrations begin, is in 6 weeks, on Tuesday, March 20, 2018, 9:15:28 AM PDT. [Photos]
(7) Yesterday's Dow Jones Industrial Average fluctuations and one-day drop: Opening 25,338; High 25,521; Low 23,924; Monday's closing 24,346; Previous closing 25,521 (single-session drop of 1175 points, 4.60%).
(8) Trump: "We'll do a shutdown and it's worth it for our country. I'd love to see a shutdown if we don't get this stuff taken care of. ... We'll go with another shutdown."
Sarah Sanders (cleaning up after Trump minutes later): "We are not advocating for the shutdown."
[Those who clean up after Trump. whether in the White House or in Congress, will have a lot of explaining to do when shit hits the fan!]
(9) Fairness in algorithm design: Increasingly, algorithms are being used to allocate scarce resources, thus bringing forth the notion of fair computation. However, fairness is difficult to define in a consistent and generally-acceptable manner. Problems where the notion of fairness arises are complicated and quite varied, so let us consider a rather common problem that many of us have faced in our lives: that of dividing the rent fairly among housemates. Suppose a housing unit to be rented by n people has n bedrooms, with each housemate getting one bedroom. Different housemates assign different values to the bedrooms. Let v[i,j] be the value assigned to bedroom j by housemate i. How would one go about determining a fair division of the rent? [Reference: K. Gal, A. D. Procaccia, M. Mash, and Y. Zick, "Which Is the Fairest (Rent Division) of Them All?" Communications of the ACM, Vol. 61, No. 2, pp. 93-100, February 2018]

2018/02/04 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
A siding (side track) allows trains to park or pass each other, when traveling in opposite directions (1) Our rotting infrastructure takes more victims: A siding is a piece of track parallel to the main one that allows trains to park (typically at stations) or two trains traveling in opposite directions to pass each other in an area where there is just one main track. Entry to the siding is controlled by signals at both ends. In the case of the latest Amtrak train collision and derailing that killed 2 and injured 100+, an outdated signaling system allowed the passenger train to go on a siding where a freight train was parked. It is a trivial technological fix, with simple sensing and electronic devices, to disallow trains from entering a siding when there is already a train on it. Just as gun deaths do not seem to trigger any sort of reform in our gun laws, technology-related deaths do not make our government think about rebuilding our rotting infrastructure. Thoughts and prayers never fixed anything!
(2) Salvador Gomez Colon, 15, raised more than $123,000 and helped distribute 100s of solar lamps to Puerto Rican families who are still without power, 4 months after Hurricane Maria.
(3) This Observer article presents one of the best analyses of the declassified Nunes memo, characterizing it as much ado about nothing, produced by the echo chamber around Trump.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- NYC-to-Miami Amtrak train hit a freight train in SC and derailed early Saturday, killing 2 and injuring 100+.
- Paul Ryan, realizing a secretary's annual tax savings of $78 isn't something to brag about, deletes tweet.
- Ancient Egyptian tomb, containing remarkable 4400-year-old paintings, discovered just outside Cairo.
- This must be some sort of a record: Four untrue claims (aka lies) in a single 47-word tweet!
- Trump can't see anything beyond his own elongated nose: Did Russia interfere in our elections or did it not?
- Snacks for this afternoon's concert: You know, the one that's preceded and followed by football! [Photo]
(5) Researchers at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, have developed a customizable, fabric-like power source that can be cut, folded, or stretched while maintaining function.
(6) US plans for retaking the lead in the race to develop the world's fastest supercomputer may be in jeopardy: China's pre-exascale supercomputer could overtake Summit, a machine developed for the US Department of Energy that is expected to surpass 200 petaflops when deployed later in 2018.
(7) Comedian Jimmy Kimmel's humorous ad for Trump Hotels: "Take advantage of 'Mexico Pays Days.' You stay, Mexico pays. Just pay with a credit card and write 'Mexico' on the bill to get reimbursed by Mexico."
(8) The "Storm Glass": This birthday gift from my children purportedly predicts changes in the weather. As my older son noted, not very useful for SoCal, because it will always show the same state! Perhaps I should regift it to a friend in Canada or northeastern US.
On-line sources state that its accuracy is dubious. "It contains a mixture of ammonium chloride, potassium nitrate, camphor, water, and alcohol, making a normally clear liquid in which different types of white crystals periodically grow and dissolve. The idea is that the mixture is so finely balanced that minor fluctuations in atmospheric conditions will change the solubility of the chemicals and produce a wide variety of crystal shapes, from tiny floating flakes to large masses of feathery fans. Each supposedly predicts a certain type of weather."
(9) Finally, my birthday celebrations are behind me: As in fairy tales, where celebrations go on for days, my birthday was celebrated on three consecutive days, first through dozens of birthday-wishes on my actual birthday, then a day of phone calls and belated well-wishes, and finally, yesterday, through the family dining out and gathering in Ventura for cake and gifts. Thanks to all for many kind words and generous gifts.

2018/02/03 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Painting showing Kurdish dancers (1) Kurdish dance music: A dozen videos I have come across recently.
[Bahram Osqueezadeh & Pejman Haddadi]   [Aziz Weisi]
[Omar Souleyman, "Warni Warni"]   [Jamshid, "Ten'nek"]
[Belly dance to Kurdish music]   [Hammarkullen carnival dance]
[Kurdish folk dance from Iraq]   [Female fighters dancing]
[Kurdish dance music, orchestral]   [Parwana]
[Persian and Kurdish dances]   [Turkish and Kurdish dances]
(2) Quote of the day: "Women are NOT a special interest group. They are half of this country and they are perfectly capable of making their own choices about their health." ~ Barack Obama
(3) Observation (humor): "In Spain, matadors enrage the bull with a one-meter piece of red cloth; in Iran, women do the same with a piece of white cloth." [Translated from Roya Hakakian's Persian post on Facebook, referring to "White Wednesdays," when women wear white scarves in protest to mandatory hijab laws.]
(4) Quote of the day: "Donald Trump calling for bipartisanship is just as believable as Mike Pence calling for bisexuality." ~ Comedian Jimmy Kimmel
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Jeff Bezos, worth $116B, will be world's first trillionaire in 4 years, if his fortune grows at the current rate.
- American Road & Transportation Builders Association: The US has 4259 structurally deficient bridges.
- Among wealthy nations, America is the most dangerous place for kids, and things may be getting worse.
- If Phil the groundhog sees his shadow today, we will have a few more months of Trump.
- Young men and women spell out their message: R-E-S-I-S-T [Photo]
- Julie Flapan and Jane Margolis of UCLA aim to make the next generation of programmers more diverse.
- Goleta Water District reminds us in a postal flyer that we are still in Stage-III water shortage emergency.
- A wave of rock shaped by wind and rain towers above a plain in Western Australia, 1963.
- A classic Hollywood beauty in her youth: Elizabeth Taylor as a ballerina, 1951.
- Trump to Mueller: "I'm really looking forward to talking to you—just give me a minute." [NYer cartoon]
(6) Data longevity: Big data isn't just "lots of data," although "volume" is in fact one of the so-called "4 Vs" characterizing the big-data universe. Sometimes, we refer to "5 Vs" instead of 4, to include "value." Data is valuable to the enterprise or individual generating or collecting it, so protection against loss or theft and preservation over extended periods of time is called for. Encoding and replication provide protection against accidental loss, as discussed in my EBDT article "Data Replication and Encoding" (pubs list).
However, we must also be concerned with data loss due to format obsolescence, storage-media obsolescence, and stored-data degradation, that is, we should care about data longevity. Note that storing data in the cloud does not remove any of the problems just cited, as the cloud must also use some form of storage medium to hold the data. All three problems can be dealt with via data refreshing, the frequency of which will depend on the rate of degradation or obsolescence.
It follows that lifespans of digital storage media must be studied and taken into account in ensuring data integrity. Because these days, we store our data in the cloud, cloud storage services should safeguard the data by keeping it on multiple device types and refreshing the data by making new copies every once in a while.

2018/02/01 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Graphic design: State of California and its municipalities (1) Interesting design: California and its municipalities.
(2) Today is my 71st birthday: My new age has many interesting properties. It it the 20th prime number and forms a twin pair of primes with 73. It is a permuatable prime, as its reverse 17 is also a prime. It is an Eisenstein prime, a Pillai prime, the largest supersingular prime, and a centered heptagonal number. Finally, on a psychic site, I found the following statement: "If the angel number 71 keeps showing up in your life, it signifies that your guardian angels are just around, waiting to be of assistance to you."
(3) Here we go again: Trump's claim that his SOTU Address had the highest ratings ever is utterly false. The speech itself was full of lies, false comparisons, and misstatements. After keeping quiet on Twitter for a day, Trump has resumed his attacks on Democrats and the media, forgetting his own call for unity and bipartisanship.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- In a 2016 radio interview, current EPA Chief Scott Pruitt had said that Trump would abuse the Constitution.
- About one-third (95 out of 289) of all American Nobel Prizes in the sciences have been earned by immigrants.
- I like the Google Calendar app, which I use on my laptop and cell phone, and recommend it to everyone.
- The closer Mueller gets to the full Russia meddling story, the more erratic the Republicans become.
- The White House releases a redacted version of House Intelligence Committee's classified memo. [Humor]
- Cartoon of the day: America First! [Image]
Sam Quinones speaking at UCSB on 2018/02/01 (5) Lecture on America's opiate crisis: Sam Quinones spoke today at 4:00 PM in McCune Conference Room under the title "Dreamland: America's Opiate Epidemic and How We Got Here." Quinones is an LA-based freelance journalist and author of three nonfiction books, including the highly influential Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic. He has reported on immigration, gangs, drug trafficking, and the border as a reporter for LA Times (2004-2014) and as a freelance writer in Mexico (1994-2004).
It is often claimed that the opiate epidemic went unnoticed for more than two decades, until it became a middle- and upper-middle-class problem. This isn't true, as addiction to opiates has been and continues to be a white middle-class problem, except that until 2015, families and parents felt isolated and too ashamed to openly admit the problem. Just as the gay-rights issue didn't take off until everyone knew of some gay person around them (as a result of more gays coming out), the opiate crisis was not recognized as deserving attention until it became so widespread that it affected nearly all families, directly or indirectly.
One of the complications in dealing with the opiate epidemic is that it originated from doctors and big pharma, rather than the Mafia and drug rings. Washington is reluctant to act because of the large sums of money politicians get from the medical and pharmaceutical lobbies. The situation got worse when opiates became a source of income for some, who would obtain a huge supply with a trivial co-pay and then turn around and sell it for hundreds or thousands of dollars. Things are beginning to change in the healthcare industry, though, and opiates are not prescribed as frequently or as indiscriminately. Doctors now try to limit the length of treatment with opiates, replacing them with alternative pain medications as soon as possible.
Quinones writes the "Dreamland Blog," where he discusses these and other ideas:
A side comment about Quinones' work is his spat with "60 Minutes" (the CBS newsmagazine), which he claims stole his ideas for a story, without crediting him or his book.
[Tonight's sunset, as seen from the edge of the campus to my home, as I walked back from the lecture.]

2018/01/31 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cartoon portraits of Richard Nixon and Donald Trump (1) Russia's meddling in the 2016 US election, the probe being conducted, and Trump's reaction to it increasingly resemble the Watergate scandal.
(2) Quote of the day: "Women are NOT a special interest group. They are half of this country and they are perfectly capable of making their own choices about their health." ~ Barack Obama
(3) Sleep troubles may be signs of Alzheimer's: "A fitful night's sleep and a habit of daytime catnapping may be an early-warning sign of Alzheimer's dementia, according to new research conducted in humans and mice."
(4) Google's new search optimization tools: Google has released the beta version of its brand-new (built from scratch) search console and I was invited to try it out. It allows you to manage your presence on Google Search, confirm which of your pages are indexed, get info on how to fix indexing errors, and monitor your search performance with 16 months of data. For example, the first of these two charts shows the total number of clicks and impressions on my UCSB faculty Web site over the past three months. The second chart shows access to my computer architecture textbook page and its presentation slides (the lull in access during the Christmas break is clearly visible).
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Virginia Tech freshman who owned an assault rifle tried to buy 5000 rounds of ammo before being arrested.
- Many Republican lawmakers were on a train that hit a truck. They were headed for a legislative retreat.
- Donald Trump's approval ratings by state: It is above 50% in only 12 states. [Map]
- [Trump dictionary] Bipartisanship: Both parties agreeing with the President, when the President is Trump.
- Trevor Noah: How Joe Kennedy's speaking to the Dreamers in Spanish undermined his message.
- Explanation of the Super Blue Blood Moon we witnessed today. [Image credit: BBC]
- Vida Movahedi, the mom who created an iconic image of Iranian women's defiance, released from prison.
- Iranian women emulate the iconic pose of recent street protests by raising their scarves on sticks.
- Women's resistance movement in Iran picks up steam. [Cartoon credit: IranWire]
- Iranian and American feminists' joint statement, with Linda Sarsour a signatory, causes controversy.
(6) UCSB Music Bowl noon concert, as part of the World Music Series: Mariachi Las Olas De Santa Barbara performed a program it calls "Singing to the Moon"; quite appropriate, given today's super blue blood moon! One of the performers explained that Mariachi bands are quite flexible, taking any musical style and making it their own. Mariachi music got some jazz influences when a number of Cubans took back the jazz style from New York. The final video below shows a student musician I encountered on the way to the Mariachi concert. [Video 1] ["Blue Moon"] ["Fly Me to the Moon"] [Sing-along] [Video 5]

2018/01/30 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Qajar-era peddler of drinking water in Iran Lincoln's Head at Mount Rushmore under construction, 1937 A game of human chess, St. Petersburg (Leningrad), circa 1924 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Qajar-era peddler of drinking water in Iran. [Center] Lincoln's Head at Mount Rushmore under construction, 1937. [Right] A game of human chess, St. Petersburg (Leningrad), circa 1924.
(2) The very rare Blue Blood Supermoon lunar eclipse: The big, bright, and red moon will be visible on January 31. The lower the moon goes, the larger it will appear. NASA will cover the event beginning at 5:30 AM EST tomorrow (Wednesday, January 31, 2018).
(3) Certain big-data collections can compromise national security: Imagine a "heat map" generated from smart-phone and smart-watch data, showing the movements of many millions of people around the world over months or even years. A map published by Strava Labs in November 2017 based on its fitness-tracking service covered 17 billion miles of distance and a total recorded activity duration of 200,000 years. A visual representation of this data can reveal locations of homes and businesses (user being stationary for an extended time period), as well as the paths of military and intelligence personnel in various secret locations. Privacy provisions in the service allow a user to turn off tracking, but because privacy is an opt-in rather than opt-out provision, most people don't bother to use the features. So, the collected data is full of pitfalls for individual users and for organizations, including governmental and military units.
(4) Actual Dr. Seuss cartoon from 1941: It criticizes America's policy on denying European Jews safe haven during the Holocaust. Note the slogan on the mother's shirt. "... and the wolf chewed up the children and spit out their bones ... but those were foreign children and it really didn't matter."
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Three major firms join forces to create a company offering affordable quality healthcare to their staff.
- UCSB geologist describes how coincidence of conditions created 'a perfect storm' that wrecked Montecito.
- Suspected Canadian serial-killer, a gardener, buried bodies under his clients flower beds.
- Interesting 4-minute explanation (in Persian) of the concept of free will, or lack thereof.
- Migration of humans out of Africa may have happened a lot sooner than previously thought.
- Digital PDA of 34 years ago: Your secret telephone directory on your wrist, ad from 1984.
- Quote: "Go often to the house of thy friend, for weeds choke the unused path." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
- The New Yorker Cartoon: Interrogator to woman: "Talk, or we'll make you watch the State of the Union!"
- Travellers' nightmare: Cleaners at a Chinese Sheraton used same brush to clean toilet bowls and cups.
- Choose your pets with care: Giant pet python named 'Tiny' strangles its 31-year-old owner at home.
(6) Self-destructing circuits: Going well beyond the self-destructing tape player in old "Mission Impossible" films, Cornell University and Honeywell engineers have developed circuits capable of self-destruction via a radio command that opens graphene-on-nitride valves sealing cavities filled with damaging chemicals.
(7) ATM jackpotting: A new crime wave, taking advantage of system vulnerabilities to withdraw large sums of cash from ATMs, is spreading from Mexico to the US.
(8) The documentary film "Score": Tonight, I attended a screeing of producer Robert Craft's wonderful documentary about the art and challenges of making film music (UCSB's Pollock Theater, 7:00 PM). The process of composing film scores, with its difficult requirements and tight deadlines, was described by a multitude of talented and prolific composers, including the incomparable John Williams and Hans Zimmer. I am a film-music aficionado, and so particularly enjoyed the producer's thoughts at the end of the screening. [Photos]

2018/01/29 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The '4 Vs' of big data, in an IBM infographic (1) The "4 Vs" of big data in an IBM infographic: The fourth "V," given in this image as "veracity," having to do with correctness and accuracy of data, is sometimes replaced by "value," the data's importance or worth. Alternatively, one might view the big-data domain as being characterized by "5 Vs."
(2) This new week, with expected spring-like temperatures in the 70s, began with a spectacular sunrise. All of this would have been quite enjoyable in the middle of winter, were it not for extreme fire danger due to high temperatures, low humidity, and expected winds, particularly in Ventura and points to its south.
(3) Governor Brown's directive calls for Increasing the number of zero-emission vehicles in California to 5 million by 2030. [WSJ report] [WP report]
(4) A new antibiotic drug: Preliminary study indicates that a drug discovered in the 1970s may be more effective and better for the body than the current last-resort superbug antibiotic.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad dead at 91: Will they have a special Hijklmn furniture sale in his honor?
- Palestinian man uncovers ancient Roman burial site in his backyard after heavy rainfall.
- John McCain calls out Putin's dictatorship and sham election, following the arrest of his key opponent.
- CIA Director: There has been no reduction in Russian meddling in Europe and the US.
- Sanctions against Russia, passed by the US Congress last year, have not yet been imposed.
- Pilot makes emergency landing on the 55 Freeway in Costa Mesa, flying under an overpass in the process.
- Unintended humor: President Trump says he is not a feminist, shocking women around the world!
- Of interest to tourists and other world travelers: Health risks, security threats, road accidents. [Maps]
(6) Interesting technical talk on computational complexity: Daniel Lokshtanov (U. Bergen) spoke at 3:30 this afternoon in a Computer Science Department seminar under the title "Coping with NP-Hardness." Saying that a problem is NP-hard means that (unless P = NP) an algorithm that solves all instances of the problem optimally using time polynomial in the size n of the instance does not exist. The running time of O(2^n) or worse rises very quickly as n grows. However, faced with such problems, we do not give up, because algorithms of the following kinds may be discovered for them. Lokshtanov discussed each kind of attack with the vertex-cover (a running example) and other easily-understood problems. The vertex-cover problem is that of identifying the smallest possible set of vertices in a graph that "touch" every edge of the graph, so that removing those vertices would lead to the removal of all edges. As a practical example, consider the case where vertices represent elements in a large data-set and edges represent data incompatibilities. Solving the vertex cover problem allows us to remove the smallest set of data points (outliers) such that the remaining points are compatible with each other.
- An algorithm with O(2^sqrt(n)) worst-case time, say: The field of exact exponential-time algorithms.
- An algorithm that comes within a small constant factor of optimality: The field of approximation algorithms.
- An algorithm solving simple instances optimally: The fields of restricted-input and parameterized algorithms.
- An efficient algorithm that converts simple instances to equivalent small instances: The field of kernelization.
Here are links to the PDF file of the speaker's book on parametrized algorithms and to his Web page.

2018/01/28 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The dancer by Gustav Klimt, 1916 Logo of the Holocaust Remembrance Day Evolution of logos for five major Hollywood film studios (1) Selected images for a very special day: [Left] The dancer by Gustav Klimt, 1916. [Center] Yesterday was Holocaust Remembrance Day: Let's remember the atrocities and renew our 'never again' pledge! This UN-designated day commemorates the genocide that led to the death of 6 million Jews, 1 million Gypsies, 250,000 mentally and physically disabled people, and 9,000 homosexual men by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. [Right] Evolution of logos for five major Hollywood film studios.
(2) Trevor Noah responds to those who criticized the toughness of the female judge in monster Larry Nassar's sentencing hearing: He also says that perhaps those who enable sexual predators should get a percentage of their sentence, like a commission!
(3) California's independence or cessation movement began years ago, but it is gathering steam because of Trump. To paraphrase the dealmaker-in-chief, we are getting a very bad deal from the rest of the country.
(4) Mushrooms could solve America's crumbling infrastructure: Yes, mushrooms, or at least a type of fungus scientifically known as Trichoderma reesei. A new technique uses fungi to fill the cracks in concrete, creating a self-healing concrete that is low-cost, pollution-free, and sustainable.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- More than 100 die in Afghanistan: Suicide bomber drives an ambulance through a security checkpoint.
- South Korea fire killing 37 comes just one month after 29 died in a blaze in an 8-story building.
- Talk about scary jury duty! 'El Chapo' promises not to kill any jurors in his upcoming federal trial.
- Burger King becomes political with its support of Net Neutrality: Hoping it's not a whopper!
- Lives lost to mud-flow aside, Montecito properties lost value, slashing SB County's property-tax income.
- France may institute fines of 90+ euros for men following women on the street or whistling at them.
- Russia will go to the moon in 2019 with its first moon-landing in decades.
- The Catholic Church needs more exorcists due to increased demonic activity, says priest.
- Will Trump be able to use his deal-making prowess in making a plea deal with Mueller?
- The Religious Right is all Wrong: Which one of these two guys would you buy a car from? [Meme]
- Bill Mahr: After meeting with its president, Trump gives Rwanda "most-favored shit-hole" trade status.
- Men should support women in their rights struggle: The rise of women does not mean the fall of men.
(6) Leaked draft of Trump's infrastructure plan leaves many unimpressed: The administration will require that states assume the bulk of funding for any project, capping federal support at 20%.
(7) Red alert in the middle of winter? High temperatures, low humidity, and winds have brought renewed fire danger to Southern California, particularly points to the south of Ventura.

2018/01/26 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
'The Last Supper' selfie (1) The Last Supper: If smartphones and selfie sticks had been invented 20 centuries ago.
(2) Time to hold officials accountable: US Olympic Committee tells USA Gymnastics it will lose its status as a governing body unless the entire board resigns by Wednesday and an interim board is in place by February 28.
(3) Here is what happens when America is run by Wall Street and big oil: Trump's 30% tariff on imported solar panels is the beginning of a trade war that will hurt the renewable-energy industry and line the pockets of major oil companies. We are going backward on all fronts!
(4) Pedestrian-unfriendly streets of Isla Vista: Walking between home and work, I go through Isla Vista, a dense community of mostly students, with some family residences on its west end. Most IV streets do not have sidewalks, forcing me to walk 3/4 of the one-plus-mile distance to the edge of the campus along the roadway. Where there is a sidewalk, as along Del Playa, shown in this photo, it is often partially or totally blocked by electrical poles, parked cars, or other obstacles. The streets are also bicycle-unfriendly, because they have no bike lanes and are relatively narrow, making it a challenge for a biker when two cars cross each other in opposite directions. Talk of road improvements have been going on for years, with little tangible results.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Another politician ousted by the #TimesUp movement: Rep. Patrick Meehan will not seek re-election.
- Facebook hires Jerome Pesenti, former CEO of BenevolentTech and a leader of IBM's Watson platform.
- More women are running for congressional seats and governorships than ever before. [Images]
- Car visits the dentist in Santa Ana, California: DUI case gone a tad too high, leading to airborne car!
- Cal Poly San Luis Obispo cuts ribbon on solar farm, expected to supply 25% of its total electrical needs.
- France Cordova, US National Science Foundation Director since 2014, profiled by US News & World Report.
(6) UCSB Library is a great home to students: A few years ago, when the library expansion and renovation project began, I was skeptical, asking why the extra space was needed in the age of shrinking stacks due to e-books and e-journals. I have since changed my mind. Tonight, when I had some time to kill between an extra-help session for my course and a musical performance on campus, I snapped these photos of wonderful study spaces, including group study rooms, that the expansion has provided for students and other patrons.
(7) Talk about distraction with a shiny object: Sean Hannity dismisses the NYT story about Trump having ordered Mueller's firing in June 2017 as fake news and distraction tactic. Later in the same program, he back-pedals and reluctantly confirms the veracity of the story. But then ... watch for yourself ... he leaves the story for the next day and cuts to a high-speed police chase video!
(8) Souren Baronian's Taksim in concert: I just walked home from UCSB after attending an enjoyable concert at the Multicultural Center Theater. A full house swayed to a unique blend of Armenian, other Middle Eastern, and jazz music in two sets. There was food afterwards, but I did not stay. Baronian was born in NYC's East Harlem neighborhood to Armenian parents who had fled the genocide. He grew up with his family's heritage, while also frequenting jazz clubs during what was the golden age of jazz. This rather unusual combination of experiences led him to form an Armenian and Middle Eastern Jazz Ensemble in the 1970s. Baronian is seated second from the left on stage in these five videos.

2018/01/25 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Map showing 11 separate 'nations' within America (1) America really consists of 11 separate nations, with entirely different cultures: These cultural differences contribute to the political tensions between states and how they fit together to form a national identity.
(2) Social-media posts include a hit-list of high school students in Santa Barbara: Parents are livid that San Marcos High School administration did not act on the threats and did not notify the parents of named students.
(3) Quote of the day: "It isn't the mountain ahead that wears you out; it's the grain of sand in your shoe." ~ Robert W. Service
(4) There's nothing virtual about the massive amounts of energy used to create or exchange bitcoins: The electrical power required to create one bitcoin is equivalent to the average US household's use in two years. Advocates argue the energy cost, which has been rising steadily, is needed to secure the networks and support a financial infrastructure free from bank or government interference. In addition to the energy costs of bitcoin creation, each bitcoin transaction needs 80,000 times more electricity to process than a Visa credit card transaction. Critics who view cryptocurrency as a speculative bubble warn it contributes to global warming and waste without any real benefits.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Despite Trump's denials, leaks show that he ordered Robert Mueller fired, but backed off under threats.
- Larry Nassar gets 40-175 years. MSU President resigns over failure to act on reports of sexual abuse.
- Is General John 'nut-job' Kelly on his way out? Rumor has it that Ivanka is looking for a replacement.
- Sri Lanka reimposes ban on women buying alcohol days after it was lifted for the first time in 4 decades.
- Montecito's mud-flow killed two young mothers, and two of their children, from the same large family.
- Elderly man, who escaped the Montecito mud-flow, in critical condition after being hit by drunk driver.
(6) The Internet is abuzz with comments on changes in Ivanka Trump's Twitter bio: She has apparently stopped pretending that she cares about women's rights. Could the reasons be the same as Melania Trump's abandoning her efforts against cyber-bullying?
(7) Talk at UCSB by CS faculty candidate Dr. Negar Kiyavash: Talking under the title "Causal Inference in the Presence of Latent Nodes," Professor Kiyavash presented her work on discovering near-optimal approximations to the topology of a highly complex network, while observing only a subset of its nodes. Active (interventional) and passive (observational) inference based on limited information are critical to the successful deployment of social, financial, and biological networks, with their immense scales and correspondingly large data volumes, although, in today's talk, Dr. Kiyavash dealt only with observational inference. She highlighted how timing could be used as a degree of freedom that provides rich information about the dynamics, thus allowing the resolution of the direction of causation, even with limited observation. [Photos] [Web page]
(8) Throwback Thursday: Looking through my files in search of documents about the activities of IEEE Iran Section during the 1970s, I came across this poster from Informatics Society of Iran's formative months, when we were focused on recruitment of members. The main part of the graphic design is a TV-like display unit of those days, bearing the society's name and initials (ISI and aleph-aleph-aleph), in Persian and English.

2018/01/23 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Sign seen at the women's protest march on January 20, 2018 (1) This sign, photographed at the Women's March, intrigued me, both due to its cleverness and because I am currently listening to Carly Simon's memoir, Boys in the Trees. And, no, the song wasn't written about a specific person, though Warren Beatty comes close to a qualifying person!
(2) Criminal neglect: Michigan State University and USA Gymnastic had been told repeatedly about sexual assault on young gymnasts by Dr. Larry Nassar. There have been resignations at USA Gymnastics, but none at MSU. Resignations won't even cut it, because their neglect borders on criminal.
(3) Academy Awards nominations: There are nine best-picture nominees, including leading contenders "The Shape of Water" and "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri." Here is the complete list of nominees.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Magnitude-8.2 (revised to 7.9) earthquake off the coast of Alaska triggers Pacific tsunami warnings.
- Mind-boggling: Teen, who was repeatedly molested by Dr. Nassar, is still getting bills for 'treatments'!
- Snow-woman in the city of Marivan, Iran, defies mandatory hijab laws. [Photo]
- Deranged Trump supporter, who threatened many CNN employees by calling them, arrested.
- Woman engineer dies in prison following her arrest during Iran's street protests.
- Cars parked on UCSB walkways, Sunday 2018 /01/21: Example of many violations of campus traffic laws.
- Working child: Calligraphic artwork by Mehdi Saeedi.
- Cartoon of the day: Kelly to Trump: "This one requires the signature of your parent or guardian!" [Image]
Sign reading 'No Trolls Allowed' (5) My plan to deal with trolls (Facebook post): Internet trolls maximize their disruptive effect by commenting on high-traffic sites and posts. Instead of offering their own posts, where they can express their ideas freely in our open society, they offer their narratives as comments on others' posts. Their comments are often unrelated to the main point of the post and are designed, via name-calling and other tactics, to goad others to respond.
Over time, many of my posts have been hijacked by trolls, in a way that if you read the last few comments, you can't tell what the original post was about. The needles of relevant and helpful comments get lost in the haystack of irrelevant, and often long-winded, musings. Social media etiquette requires that one comment directly on the post, offering corrections, additional insights, and helpful suggestions. Let me provide a hypothetical example.
Me: Clinton's experience would have made her a better POTUS than Trump.
Troll: But she is crooked and her husband cheated on her.
This exchange may compel me or someone else to opine that Trump is 100 times more crooked and that he himself, rather than his spouse, is a cheater. This will then be the starting point of the discussion devolving into a comparison of deeds of cheating and other matters, real or fake, that are only tangentially related to the main point of the post: Clinton Foundation, Benghazi, uranium deal, e-mails, child sex-ring, and so on. From now on, I will exercise my right to remove irrelevant, crude, and other disruptive comments from my Facebook timeline. After all, this is my space for interacting with friends and others who honor the social media etiquette alluded to above. My previous policy of simply ignoring such comments proved ineffective: sometimes, trolls comment on their own comments, with no reply from me). In the extreme, I will block trolls from commenting.

2018/01/22 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Russian writer, philosopher, and mystic Leo Tolstoy telling his grandchildren a story, circa 1890 Kodak's first prototype digital camera, 1975 Albert Einstein at the opening of New York's World Fair, 1939 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Russian writer, philosopher, and mystic Leo Tolstoy telling his grandchildren a story, circa 1890. [Center] Kodak's first prototype digital camera, 1975. [Right] Albert Einstein at the opening of New York's World Fair, 1939.
(2) Iran's ayatollahs have moved into the digital age, bringing along their antique thoughts!
[Grand Ayatollah Gerami's Web site, showing his answer to a question about whether a man and a woman planning to get married are allowed to look at each other's body.]
(3) Russian operatives pitting Americans against one another: A CNN report reveals that during the 2016 presidential campaign, Russian-sponsored Facebook groups organized two separate rallies at the exact same time and in the exact same location in Texas. One was a rally for Muslims and the other an anti-Muslim rally. Trump's top aides re-tweeted posts by several such Russian groups.
(4) Leaning Tower of San Francisco: The 56-story Millennium Tower is sinking into mud and tilting toward its neighbors. A large contingent of lawyers is fighting it out and blaming various parties as being at fault and, thus, responsible for fixing the problem. Meanwhile, time is running out for implementing a fix.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Philippines volcano erupts, unleashing a giant ash column and molten rocks.
- World's greatest deal-maker: Donald had an idea for ending the shut-down, but Mitch wouldn't buy into it.
- Street artist 'Tom Bob' adds color to mundane object around town. [Photo]
- Tonight's colorful sunset, at the end of a beautiful, spring-like day, captured from UCSB's West Campus.
- The state of trails in the Santa Barbara area, after the fire and mud-flow. [79-minute talk]
- Cartoon of the day: "I don't understand. We followed the directions to a T. We should be there." [Image]
(6) UCSB SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind seminar: Kathleen McDermott spoke today under the title "Individual Differences in Learning Efficiency" at 4:00 PM in Psychology 1312. An alternate title could have been "Individual Differences in Long-Term Memory," as learning is synonymous with long-term retention of knowledge. McDermott was introducted as being the "M" in DRM Paradigm, a procedure in cognitive psychology used to study false memory in humans. The procedure was pioneered by James Deese in 1959, but it wasn't until Henry Roediger (McDermott's spouse) and Kathleen McDermott extended the line of research in 1995 that the paradigm became popular.
Questions addressed by McDermott are listed in one of the slides shown in these images. Her research has shown that fast learners are also better at retaining the knowledge. In particular, "memory athletes," who can memorize long random sequences of digits or order of cards in a deck of cards fairly quickly, are also excellent learners. Even though for one person, making problems more challenging, and thus slowing down the learning process, improves retention, across different learners, learning speed correlates well with improved retention.

2018/01/21 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cartoon: The murdered Iranian protesters will not be silenced (1) Cartoon of the day: The murdered Iranian protesters will not be silenced. [Cartoons like this one support the claim that Iranian cartoonists are among the most creative in the world.]
(2) Paul Ryan (rightly) removes Pat Meehan from the House Ethics Committee, upon learning of the Representative's payoff to settle sexual misconduct allegations. He should apply the same standard everywhere. What's good for the House, is good for the White House!
(3) Quote of the day: "[Tolerance] is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly—that is the first law of nature." ~ Voltaire
(4) Stephen Miller is brought out from the shadows and blamed for Trump's erratic behavior during government funding negotiations. Senator Lindsey Graham leads the charge against Miller.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Taliban attack on foreigners at Kabul luxury hotel leaves at least 18 dead.
- Missouri governor urged to resign amid allegations that he blackmailed ex-mistress with nude photos.
- Government shutdown: Chinese media characteriz US government as chaotic and chronically flawed.
- Lunatics galore: Texas judge asks jury to return 'not guilty' verdict, because God told him so!
- Wonderful examples of dynamic, virtual-reality art. [3-minute video]
- Girther: Anyone who doesn't believe Trump weighs 239 lb, as announced; where's the girth certificate?
(6) Formalist Quartet in concert: The LA-based group played music by UCSB composers at Carl Geiringer Hall, beginning at 4:30 PM today. The program is shown in one of these images/photos. Heena Yoon's 2018 piece "Penguin, Penguin" was performed with penguin props placed by members of the audience on a round spread representing polar ice-cap, and later removed, as the music contemplated the fate of penguins, once all the glaciers on Earth melt. Nick Norton's 2018 piece "Light Delays," inspired by communication delays in space, had the cellist play notes, which were replicated with various delays by three violinists positioned around the concert hall. The iPad score-sheet is a sign of the times!
The Formalist Quartet is an ensemble dedicated to the performance of adventurous repertoire focusing on contemporary pieces and world premieres as well as exploring a diverse spectrum of early music and the standard repertoire. [Web page]

2018/01/20 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image for Roxane Gay's 'Hunger' (1) Book review: Gay, Roxane, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by the author, Harper Audio, 2017.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Gay is the best-selling author of Bad Feminist: Essays, a 2014 title (now on my to-read list) that criticized "professional feminists" as being out of touch with women who most needed the movement. Hunger is about food, self-image, and the ability to feed your urges while also taking proper care of yourself. Gay writes primarily for women who share some of her challenges and perspectives, but as a male reader, I found myself relating to and learning from her experiences.
Gay's body is the protagonist in this memoir in several different ways. First, because she was obese and, later, overweight, Gay experienced much hardship in way of body-shaming and outright discrimination. Second, having suffered a gang rape at age 12, she carried the scar for life. In fact, the extra-weight problem resulted in part from the rape experience, as Gay tried to wrap herself in what she characterizes as a safer exterior. Third, her skin color as a black woman served as another strike against her. Fourth, her bisexuality intensified and complicated the other problems.
Gay admits her many contradictions. As a feminist who can't bother to learn to fix her car. As an obese woman who seeks acceptance but also wishes she could be smaller. As a promoter of self-confidence who also practices self-loathing. In fact, this last contradiction led to the saddest outcomes, as Gay tolerated one abusive relationship after another, because she thought she didn't deserve any better.
In my view, every feminist (I do count myself as one) should read this book, as it aptly exposes the devastating effects of gender discrimination, combined with racism, fat-shaming, and fear of alternate sexual orientations.
(2) Whoever wrote this headline is more brilliant than the genius in the White House: "Doctor: No heart, cognitive issues." The alternative, "Doctor: No brain, heart problems," would have been just as appropriate!
(3) Joke of the day: Trump's tweet about today's Women's March. "Beautiful weather all over our great country, a perfect day for all Women to March. Get out there now to celebrate the historic milestones and unprecedented economic success and wealth creation that has taken place over the last 12 months. Lowest female unemployment in 18 years!"
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Government shutdown is now in effect, ruining Trump's celebration of his inauguration's anniversary.
- Trump now blames the Democrats, but he once said that any shutdown is ultimately the President's fault.
- US 101 is slated to reopen on Monday 1/22, in time for the early-morning commute.
- PBS Hewshour's coverage of today's nationwide Women's March.
- In the US, 678K Twitter users followed a Kremlin-linked troll account or retweeted/liked one of their posts.
- British teen accessed top-secret US Middle East Ops by pretending to be the CIA Director.
- Cartoon of the day: "It's almost like everything he says gives us a reason to wear a stupid hat." [Image]
(5) Women's Rally/March in Santa Barbara: The rally part in De La Guerra Plaza was extended by a couple of hours and the march along State Street cancelled, because the police had refused to provide security along the route. The gathering was much smaller than last year's and the topics discussed more diffused, hurting the effectiveness of the event's messaging. Here is a small part of one of the many eloquent speeches by young women at today's rally. The speaker aptly reminded us that it's not enough to just be non-racist in our personal lives. We must be actively anti-racist in society. This song ended the rally. [Photos]
[P.S.: Driving to downtown Santa Barbara for the Women's March, I passed by a convoy of 50+ dump trucks on their way back from northern Goleta, where they are currently dumping mud from Montecito clean-up.]

2018/01/19 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Big Data (1) What is big data? Big data isn't just a lot of data, but is distinguished by four features, the so-called "4 Vs," that create challenges for computer-based applications. One of the Vs is "volume" or data amount. Before elaborating on the other three Vs, let me introduce the terminology used to describe data volumes. Here is a rough guideline:
- KB (kilobyte, 10^3 bytes): One page of text, or a small contact list
- MB (megabyte, 10^6 bytes): One photo, or a short YouTube video
- GB (gigabyte, 10^9 bytes): A movie
- TB (terabyte, 10^12 bytes): Netflix's movies; 4-years' worth of watching
- PB (petabyte, 10^15 bytes): Data held by an e-commerce site or a bank
- EB (exabyte, 10^18 bytes): Google's data centers
- ZB (zettabyte, 10^21 bytes): WWW size, or capacity of all hard drives
- YB (yottabyte, 10^24 bytes): Worldwide daily data production by 2020
The other 3 Vs are "variety" (diverse formats, including unformatted), "velocity" (rate of generation or change), and "value" (worth of the data to an enterprise or application). Dealing with big data requires big storage, big data processing capability, and big communication bandwidth.
I have just finished the first drafts of five articles on big data that will appear in Encyclopedia of Big Data Technologies. The articles and citation for the forthcoming encyclopedia are found in my list of publications, near the top and currently preceded by the codes EBDT0 to EBDT5.
(2) Tomorrow's nationwide Women's March, including here in Santa Barbara, isn't just about Trump, but constitutes a protest about the entire US sociopolitical structure that lets misogynist men control and abuse women at every level, all the way up to the highest office in the land. #Resist #MeToo #TimesUp
(3) Trump's view of the wall has evolved according to his Chief of Staff, but not according to Trump himself.
- "My concept of the wall has not changed or evolved since I first thought of it." ~ Donald Trump
- "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
(4) The man worshiped by Mike Pence and other Bible-thumping conservatives cheated on his first wife with his second wife, cheated on his second wife with his third wife, and cheated on his third wife with a porn star. Being just as promiscuous politically, he has changed party affiliation seven times, according to the book Trump Revealed, which I am about to finish and will review soon.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Amazon and Apple have narrowed down the list of candidate cities for their 2nd headquarters.
- You can't make this stuff up: ISIS rapper who married an FBI spy was killed in a Syria strike.
- The genius in the WH tweeted: "Government Funding Bill past last night in the House of Representatives."
- Robert Mueller's investigative team is exempt from furloughs in case of government shutdown.
- Leaks are good for democracy: Dictatorships survive by keeping corruption and nepotism under wraps.
- FEMA personnel are on site in Montecito to help mudslide victims rebuild, but so are low-life scammers.
- Out of touch with reality: Reality TV crew arrested for trying to smuggle pretend explosives onto plane!
(6) A book I found on the new-arrivals shelf at the UCSB library expands my already-long to-read list by one: Michael M. Gunter, The Kurds: A Modern History, Markus Wiener Publishers, 2nd ed., 2017

2018/01/18 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The evolution of the US-Mexico border wall (cartoon) (1) Cartoon of the day: The evolution of the US-Mexico border wall.
(2) SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind seminar: Roddy Roediger spoke today under the title "Making It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning" at 4:00 PM in Psychology 1312. He began by observing that the typical learning strategy consists of repetition of the study-test cycle. Research has shown that tesing, or retrieval practice, enhances long-term retention and slows forgetting. Testing of memory not only assesses what we know, but changes it. Future recall is facilitated more by testing than by additional study. As an example, use of flashcards is effective because it constitutes a type of testing or active learning. In short, testing should be viewed as contributing to learning and not just as an assessment method. [Slides] [See also the following item.]
(3) UCSB's SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind has llined up an impressive array of lectures for the rest of this academic year. All but one of the lectures are held in Psychology 1312 at 4:00 PM on Mondays.
(4) A wonderful rendition of one of the most moving patriotic songs about Iran: Mohammad Nouri's "Ey Iran." Here is Mohammad Nouri's own rendition. And here is another of Nouri's memorable patriotic songs, "Safar Baraay-e Vatan" ("Journey for the Homeland").
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Interactive before and after photos of the Montecito January 9 mudslide/mudflow.
- Poetic justice: Exposing the anti-immigration immigrants.
- Anne Frank movement: Hundreds of rabbis promise to hide African refugees facing deportation in Israel.
- Twelve-year-old with epilepsy and others in her group will take Jeff Sessions to court on medical pot use.
- Apple's "Text Bomb" bug: A simple text message that crashes iPhones and Macs.
- Tonight's sunset over Devereux Slough: Clouds tend to add to the beauty of sunsets.
(6) Silicon Valley has more foreign workers than domestic ones: If talk of revoking the H1B visa program is implemented, the US tech industry will be in deep trouble. Last year, Microsoft and Google each requested about 5000 such visas, paying the recruited workers an average salary of about $130K.
[P.S.: Here goes the myth of low-paid foreign workers depressing the US job market!]
(7) Hush-money paid to a porn star: Stormy Daniels was reportedly paid $130,000 by Donald Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen, through a specially formed LLC, just weeks before the 2016 presidential election.
(8) Trump's highly ironic "Fake News Awards" backfire: "The awards, whivh were announced on Wednesday evening (and saw Newsweek take a very respectable eighth place), singled out The New York Times, ABC and CNN for the top spots—but WikiLeaks took the time to remind Trump that his own administration was a 'frequent' source of fake news."

2018/01/17 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Laptop computer of 25 years ago vs. today (1) History in pictures: Laptop computer of 25 years ago vs. today.
(2) The identity theft roulette: In his IEEE Computer magazine article, entitled "Equifax and the Latest Round of Idnetity Theft Roulette" (issue of December 2017), Hal Berghel maintains that what we know about the Equifax data breach, which affected half of all Americans, is just the tip of the iceberg. Companies play fast and loose with our personal information, pocketing the profits, and leaving us holding the bag when things go wrong. In another article I was reading yesterday, the claim was made that auto companies are tracking our moves in newer leased or purchased computer-equipped cars and have detailed schemes on how to monetize their information about where we drive. It's frightening to realize that your car company knows more about where you have been than your spouse!
(3) Robotic dragonfly from the 1970s: This spying tool, with an impressive range of 200 m, was built by US intelligence for putting a miniaturized listening device into place, without raising suspicion. It was never actually used, because even the gentlest breeze blew the 1-gram bug-carrying bug off course. [Source: IEEE Spectrum magazine, January 2018]
(4) Secretary of Homeland Security nominee, Kirstjen Nielsen, with her obviously Norwegian name, claimed she didn't know that Norway is a predominantly white country!
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Ex CIA agent arrested for passing classified info, including names of undercover agents, to China.
- Automakers are tapping into our personal data by tracking the vehicles they sell or lease.
- All-time record amount spent on natural disasters in the US during 2017: $306 billion.
- The January 11-18 issue of Montecito Journal documents the mud-flow that devastated the community.
- Time magazine's 2-page spread depicting the rescue of a victim from under the mud in Montecito.
- Last year, for the first time ever , Cadillac sold more cars in China (175,000+) than in the US.
- I was delighted to find this mini-lettuce 6-pack at Ralphs: Perfect size for a single-serving of salad.
(6) What if Jewish immigration had been banned in the 19th century? "[Imagine the implementation of that proposed ban] on what they perceived to be some genetic inferiority. What, in terms of enterprise, genius, imagination, and philanthropy would have been lost to America as a country? And what, in terms of human tragedy, would have ultimately weighed on our conscience? Today, American Jews are widely considered the model minority, so thoroughly assimilated that organizational Jewish energies are now largely devoted to protecting our religious and cultural distinctiveness. Someone might ask Jeff Sessions and other eternal bigots what makes an El Salvadoran, Iranian or Haitian any different."

2018/01/16 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Wonderful Persian calligraphic art plays on the word 'eshgh' ('love'), with its 5 dots (1) Wonderful Persian calligraphic art plays on the word 'eshgh' ('love'), with its 5 dots. [Artist unknown]
(2) Believe it or not: John Tyler, the 10th US president, born In 1790, has two living grandsons. [Both he and the last of his 15 children remarried and had children very late in life.]
(3) We should embrace change brought about by technology, not fear it: The fraction of farmworkers in the US has declined from about 80% a little over two centuries ago to 2% today. This change has come about quite smoothly. Had farmworkers of the early 1800s known that most of their jobs would be lost to automation and productivity improvements, they would have objected vehemently, just as coal-miners and factory-workers are doing today. Freeing 78% of the population to contribute in other ways to our economy was actually a blessing in disguise.
(4) My tweet on the Dunning-Kruger effect is cited in Forbes article: About 46% of men and 30% of women think of themselves as geniuses, whereas the most generous definition of the term, based on IQ scores over 140, qualifies one in every 250 people for the superlative.
(5) End of the world: In the topsy-turvey world of Trump, America is gaining respect among other countries, but we are really ridiculed at every turn, including on this Der Spiegel cover image. Interestingly, Time magazine also uses a similarly unflattering cover image of Trump in reviewing the first year of his presidency.
(6) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- US general to NATO: Russia's decade-long full modernization of its military is a threat to Europe.
- Doctors warn about deadly consequences of holding back a sneeze.
- SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket, designed for carrying humans to Mars, undergoes extensive testing.
- Foiled ISIS plot to blow up the Statue of Liberty with pressure-cooker bombs revealed.
- Inventor Peter Madsen charged with killing and dismembering journalist Kim Wall on his submarine.
- Zambia's tourism office issues new ad in the wake of Trump's racist comments.
- Adamson House in Malibu, California, features floor tiles resembling a Persian carpet.
- Tonight's majestic sunset, photographed over Goleta's Devereux Slough. [Photo]
(7) Debris basin: This is a concept I learned today. For creeks that flow over steep terrains, engineers dig giant basins at regular intervals, so that debris and boulders that are dislodged by flood-waters come to rest there and do not damage structures further downhill. The mud-flow of January 9 in Montecito not only filled all the debris basins but caused them to overflow, leading to the devastation that we witnessed. The next rain may move additional debris, including boulders that have come to rest at various locations in Montecito. The Army Corps of Engineers is working hard to open up large debris basins and move the boulders, some the size of trucks, before the next rain.
(8) On per-capita GDP growth: A GDP growth of 2% would be bad if our population were growing by 3-4%. However, given that the US births minus deaths add about 0.5% to the population and immigration contributes another 0.3% to population growth, a GDP growth rate of 2% translates to a per-capita growth rate of 1.2% per year. Such a growth would produce significant improvement in the standard of living over a decade or two.

2018/01/15 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Dr. Martin Luther King, photographed by Bob Fitch, in Atlanta, 1966 (1) History in pictures: Dr. Martin Luther King, photographed by Bob Fitch, in Atlanta, 1966. Happy MLK Day! Dr. King's ideas are even more vital today, during the presidency of a bigoted and intolerant person, who, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, has claimed he is "the least-racist person in the world"; just one of his many blatant lies!
(2) Trump thinks repeating a statement makes it true: "I am the least-racist person"; "There is no collusion"; "I have a very high IQ." The first statement has been proven false repeatedly. Robert Mueller will likely assess the second statement. See regarding the one on IQ.
(3) Computer science tops the list of fastest-growing undergraduate majors at UK universities: The trend accompanies significant increases in the percentage of women in computer science (8.4% increase over three years) and science subjects in general (39% to 42% over four years).
(4) EU's 5-year plan to build the world's fastest computer: The European Union has launched a $1.2-billion project to construct the world's fastest supercomputer by 2023, an exascale system capable of 10^18 calculations per second. The project is seen as a way to challenge the supercomputing prowess of China and the US, which have traditionally dominated the Top-500 supercomputers list.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Digest of Micheal Wolff's Fire and Fury, for those who don't have the time to read the full book. [Humor]
- A brewery in SLO is using its facility to can water for Santa Barbara residents in need of safe drinking water.
- From the annals of useless research: Causes of death in traditional English folk songs.
- "Having empty pockets is no fun, but even worse is having an empty brain or an empty heart." ~ Anonymous
- Hawaiians make light of the false alarm they got over a ballistic missile attack in progress.
- Projection on Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC.
(6) Santa Barbara County's interactive map allows you to see the destruction caused by mud-flow in Montecito, California. Clicking on a dot reveals the property address and status. The map will be updated as additional inspections are completed. Red dots indicate total destruction, while orange/yellow designates major/minor damage. Blue dots are attached structures. It seems that there were two major flow paths, one in the vicinity of Olive Mill Road and the other about a mile to its east.
(7) Yearning for normalcy: Thomas Fire began in Ventura on December 4 and within a few days, affected Santa Barbara and its surrounding areas. We have been in a state of emergency for more than a month! UCSB's fall-quarter final exams were moved to early January (last week), but the schedule was disrupted when Montecito mud-flows broke out on January 9. Now, winter quarter classes are slated to begin tomorrow, with US 101 still closed and no reopening date specified. This is a bit too much improvisation and uncertainty for my taste. I know, I should be grateful that my house did not burn and no one in my family was buried under tons of mud, but still! On the positive front, the environmental group "Heal the Ocean" has issued a statement on mudslide clean-up efforts and depositing mud on beaches. The statement urges understanding, in the face of immense difficulty of mud removal, where the areas affected may still hold bodies of missing people. The group has been reassured that inspectors are keeping a close watch at the beach dumping sites and that any unsafe load is redirected to an alternate inland site.

2018/01/14 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Eight-year-old Samuel Reshevsky defeating several chess masters at once in France, 1920 Women going shopping in Los Angeles, 1960 (photo by Allan Grant, colorized by Kostas Fiev) Queen Elizabeth II greets ... (Can you name the two on the right?) (1) History in pictures: [Left] Eight-year-old Samuel Reshevsky defeating several chess masters at once in France, 1920. [Center] Women going shopping in Los Angeles, 1960 (photo by Allan Grant, colorized by Kostas Fiev). [Right] Queen Elizabeth II greets ... (Can you name the two on the right?)
[Note added on 2018/01/21: A friend pointed out that the boy appears to be losing in every one of the chess matches. I can't independently verify this claim, but trust his word. My apologies for the fake description!]
(2) Bill and Melinda Gates are paying off Nigeria's $76 million debt to Japan. There are two ways you can treat a "shithole": put more shit in it (recall Trump's musing that his rich friends doing business in Africa can make a lot of money there), or remove the shit and help turn it into a livable place.
(3) What happens to books by disgraced authors? In the past, allegation of plagiarism was the main reason for cancelling a book contract or pulling books from shelves. The recent wave of sexual misconduct allegations has resulted in cancellation of multiple book deals. Books already published by such authors continue to sell, some briskly, but they are often re-assigned to less prestigious imprints or publishers. According to Jim Milliot, Editorial Director of Publishers Weekly, "Publishers are not against courting controversy. But it has to be a controversy rooted in ideas." [Adapted from Time magazine, issue of January 15, 2018]
(4) Americans to break meat-eating record in 2018: Per-capita consumption of red meat and poultry is expected to rise to 222 lb (~101 kg). Egg demand will also reach an all-time high. [Source: Time magazine, issue of January 15, 2018]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- The environmental group "Heal the Ocean" issues a statement about depositing mud on beaches.
- Trump likes immigrants from Norway: Here is why they may not be eager to come. [Memes]
- Humor: Reaction in Haiti to Trump's comments on immigration. [Photo]
- Iranian oil tanker sinks after burning for a week, killing 32. [Photo]
- Great answer to a misguided question: Granted, "good" appears in quotes, but what were they thinking?
- Something to remember on the eve of MLK Day about not standing up to evil. [Meme]
(6) Why would anyone dishonor her family to satisfy a childish dictator? RNC Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel dropped her middle name on Twitter after Trump "joked" that she should.
(7) Dumping mud on the beach near UCSB (seen in the background of this photo): My heart goes out to the one-percenters living in Montecito's multimillion-dollar homes, who lost lives and property, but ...
Homes will be replaced (the ~100 lost) or repaired (the ~300 damaged). Even though many residents did not carry flood insurance, there is speculation that because mudslides were caused by Thomas Fire, their fire insurance will provide coverage. The 20 lost lives, ranging in age from 3 to 89, are irreplaceable. They represent unrealized dreams and potentials, and grieving families, who have our deepest sympathy.
Residents of nearby communities, including Goleta, are doing all that's in their power to help. Stories published since yesterday have upset many, however: truckloads of mud, 1000s of cubic yards removed from the Coast Village Road area, are being dumped on Goleta Beach, without any community input. Earlier, authorities had said that speed of search, recovery, and road-opening efforts precluded careful planning and that they are doing the best they can to balance-out various considerations, but the emergency requires quick action.
The dumped mud, it is argued, may contain toxic material, glass shards, plastics, and other debris, which may affect our pristine beach for years to come. Engineers are assuring the public who have gone to the site that the mud will be taken care of by ocean waves and the area will go back to its natural state very soon. My neighbors have been conducting an e-mail discussion on the topic since early this morning. In the words of one, who reacted to reports of mud-dumping on Goleta and Carpinteria beaches, but not in Montecito, "reports read like another example of 1%ers dumping on the rest of us." I will follow up on these stories, because Goleta Beach is one of the favorite spots for me to walk and enjoy the nature. [TV report, with video] [Print report] [Santa Barbara County's press release of 2018/01/12 about mud-dumping on beaches]

2018/01/13 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Winston Churchill takes a seat in Hitler's chair, Berlin, 1945 File clerks on electric elevator desks, Prague, 1937 A group of soldiers from the 369th Division, known as 'The Harlem Hellfighters,' World War I (1) History in pictures: [Left] Winston Churchill takes a seat in Hitler's chair, Berlin, 1945. [Center] File clerks on electric elevator desks, Prague, 1937. [Right] A group of soldiers from the 369th Division, known as 'The Harlem Hellfighters,' World War I.
(2) Quote of the day: "When you make a statement like you made yesterday, the question is: 'Do you even understand why we have a Martin Luther King holiday?'" ~ Martin Luther King III, on Trump's scripted statement about honoring MLK
(3) City Council of Washington DC passes a measure to rename the street in front of the Russian Embassy after murdered anti-Putin dissident Boris Nemtsov.
(4) Talk about misjudging a political situation: Early small-scale protests in the city of Mashhad, organized by Iran's hardliners as an affront to President Rouhani in his second term, quickly turned into nationwide unrests threatening the foundations of Iran's clerical regime. [Source: Time magazine, issue of January 15, 2018]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Journalists struggle to find words/phrases for 'shithole' in Chinese and other languages, Newsweek reports.
- Where governors of states with ocean coastlines stand on Trump's opening of off-shore drilling. [CNN map]
- Merriam-Webster's word of the day is 'reprehensible': it could have just as easily been 'repugnant'!
- The media may be unfair to Trump, but no one empathizes with a bully who treats everyone unfairly.
- Are you curious about your ancestry (humor): If so, then this kit is just what you need.
- Cartoon caption of the day: Patron at the library: "Do you have any why-to books?"
(6) I don't believe Oprah Winfrey should run for US presidency, because, in my view, she isn't qualified. But if she does and wins, consider the contrast between 45 and 46:
Misogynist man vs. Feminist woman; White racist vs. Black activist; Bully vs. Nurturing; Inherited wealth vs. Self-made fortune; Non-reader vs. Book-club champion; Inarticulate vs. Eloquent
(7) Iranians are 15% poorer than a decade ago: This chart shows that the monthly budget of a typical urban household grew for a decade, before declining in the next, during the period 1998 t0 2017. [Source: IranWire]
(8) Recovery from the Santa Barbara mudslides has proven more difficult than anticipated. Mud is being removed from roads and other areas as quickly as possible, but not everyone is approving of where it is dumped. Some is being taken to garbage dumps, but much of it is being deposited on beaches, angering environmentalists. Authorities have revised their estimate of Monday 1/15 reopening for US 101, saying that the highway will remain closed indefinitely.
(9) Final thought for the day: "You may never know their names. They work beneath the headlines and far from the spotlight. When they receive formal recognition from bodies like the Nobel Committee, it is the exception, not the norm. But the fact remains: under the radar, grassroots organizations led by women are quietly changing the world." ~ Melinda Gates, writing under the title "From Mad Men to Marching Women," in Time magazine, issue of January 15, 2018

2018/01/12 (Friday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Charging an electric car in 1905 Mme Decourcelle, first female taxi driver in Paris, 1909 Henry Ford with his first automobile, 1896 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Charging an electric car in 1905. [Center] Mme Decourcelle, first female taxi driver in Paris, 1909. [Right] Henry Ford with his first automobile, 1896.
(2) Computers to the rescue: Ancient Coptic codex, deemed too fragile and damaged to open without destroying it, will be scanned through computerized tomography and then converted to legible text using special software.
(3) Released video shows Khamenei doubting his legitimacy to replace the deceased Khomeini as Iran's Supreme Leader: "Pity an Islamic society if even the possibility is raised that someone like me can be its leader," he reportedly told the Assembly of Experts in 1989, arguing that his selection was against the constitution and that clerics wouldn't obey him because he lacked seniority.
(4) Quote of the day: "Most positive developments are not camera-friendly, and they aren't built in a day. You never see a headline about a country that is not at war, or a city that has not been attacked by terrorists—or the fact that since yesterday, 180,000 people have escaped extreme poverty." ~ Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, writing under the title "The Bright Side" in Time magazine, issue of January 15, 2018
(5) Eight brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- US FTC received more than 4.5 million complaints about robo-calls in 2017, writes Time magazine.
- Iran bans teaching of English in primary schools, citing cultural infiltration.
- Eight flu deaths in Santa Barbara County already, nearly 3 times as many as the entire flu season last year.
- Hypocrite-in-Chief talked about honoring Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday. Makes you want to vomit!
- One of the optimist essays in Time magazine's issue of January 15, 2018, was "The Future We Will Make."
- Staff Winter Warmer: Gathering at UCSB, with coffee, pastry, and displays of staff-made handicrafts.
- Cartoon of the day: Trump world map. [Source: The New Yorker]
- Cartoon caption of the day: "The media is fake news, sad, failing, and unfair—OK, let the cameras in." [TNY]
(6) [Final thought for the day] The divide that seems unbridgeable: Here is a comment by a Trump supporter on a Facebook post. I wonder if he and I are talking about the same man. I must admit that this particular supporter is much more eloquent than most, but still ...
"Whatever, however the naysayers wish to deride and denounce President Trump, he is not at all the standard fare of lying politician, but a refreshing reprieve in a man who has strove hard to keep nearly every promise he made to the American people. Far from the slick-talking salesman that America has been stuck with for nearly 100 years, he is a businessman always getting down to business. What I personally know of him after following him for more than 30 years is that Donald Trump is a true patriot determined to bring America back to moral prominence, military dominance and market preeminence. Trump is a great man, doing an impossible job for a spoiled and ungrateful people; a man for this nation's desperate hour. As most people who have impacted their world radically, they stand alone in the midst of overwhelming opposition, doing the necessary work, though hated, because their love for what is right overrides any desire for selfish gain."

2018/01/11 (Thursday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Photo of Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep in the movie 'The Post' (1) The power of real news: The movie "The Post," showcasing perhaps the best actor and actress of our time (Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep; both sure to get Oscar nods) is an affront to the fakery prevailing in the current US administration and its supporters. Steven Spielberg's retelling of the story of the publication of "The Pentagon Papers" in the 1970s is an ode to the power of real news in shaping our society and politics.
(2) On Fusion GPS's congressional testimony: Republican leaders continue to pretend that nothing was going on between Trump and Russia. Trump's own repetition that there was "no collusion" is reminiscent of Clinton's "no sexual relations," that is, parsing words. I suspect that at some future time, there will be a movie about these events, with Meryl Streep playing Diane Feinstein. Mark my words!
(3) This is Iran, where a handcuffed child is clubbed and kicked by security forces and those witnessing the assault film the incident, instead of intervening.
(4) Mudslides and road closures throw a monkey-wrench into UCSB's final exams for the fall quarter, going on this week: Some 10,000 UCSB undergrads come from "southern counties" (Ventura, Los Angels, and others). Not all are affected by the current emergency, as they may have arrived in Santa Barbara before the US 101 closure. Still, instructors are being asked to be flexible in accommodating unusual circumstances.
(5) Seven brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Search for mudslide survivors continues in Santa Barbara: Death toll is at 17, with 8 still missing.
- In an amazing feat, train service resumes between Santa Barbara and the south. US 101 remains closed.
- What an embarrassment of a President! This is so un-American and below human dignity! (#ShitHole)
- Asking Melania Trump: Do you let your son watch his dad speak? What came of your anti-bullying efforts?
- China's new Tianjin Binhai Library is a feast for the eyes: It houses 1.2 million books.
- Quote of the day: "Prejudice can't survive proximity." ~ Anonymous
- Cartoon of the day: "You know, you do have the right to remain silent!" [Image]
(6) Mind-Altering Devices: This was the title of a SAGE-Center talk today (Psychology 1312, 4:00 PM), with the subtitle "How Smartphones Shape Our Thoughts."
The speaker was tech/culture writer Nicholas Carr, whose new book Utopia Is Creepy collects his best essays, blog posts, and other writings to provide an alternative history of our tech age. Carr's acclaimed 2014 book, The Glass Cage: How Our Computers Are Changing Us, examines the consequences of our growing dependency on computers, robots, and apps. His 2011 work, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, was a NYT best-seller. He has also authored two other influential books, The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google (2008), and Does IT Matter? (2004).
Carr began by observing that technology isn't neutral. When we adopt a tool, we adopt a way of thinking that the tool imposes. In the words of John M. Culkin, "We shape our tools and thereafter they shape us." For example, the invention of mechanical clock changed our way of thinking about time, which then influenced the way we think about and interact with the world around us.
Ours is the age of "compulsive consumption." Most Web pages are viewed for less than 10 seconds. Facebook newsfeed videos are watched for 16.7 seconds on average. We glance at our inboxes 30-40 times per hour (interestingly, if you ask someone how often s/he does this, the answer would be 3-4). Teens text 3300 times per month. Students spend less than 6 minutes on homework before a tech distraction. An average iPhone owner unlocks the device 80 times per day. The average number of iPhone screen touches per day is 2617. Tech media are designed for rapid-fire information consumption, which means constant distraction.
Our adaptation to tech disrupts one of the fundamental ways we turn information into knowledge. Consolidation of information from the thimble of working memory into the bathtub of long-term memory hinges on attentiveness. When you receive information at a very high rate, you don't keep anything long enough to do a good job of consolidation.
Research has shown that the presence of a smartphone near you, even if you don't act on notifications, even if it is turned off, tends to degrade your performance on mental tasks. The same holds for friendships and relationships. Presence of a phone on the table, even if turned off, pulls your attention away from the person you are conversing with. Research by psychologists shows that objects with salience attract much of our attention. And the smartphone carries a lot of salience (see the slide that shows how much important stuff we have on our phones).
There is also disruption of memory known as the Google effect: When we know that something will be easily available to us (say, via a Google search or in a photograph we snap), we are less likely to remember it. The Silicon Valley assumption that more information means sharper thinking is questionable. In reality, the way information is supplied is more important than the amount of information delivered.
We have to be concerned, as makers and users, with how we shape these powerful tools. Where will our deep thinkers and future leaders come from if everyone is so distracted and is incapable of focused thought? There are also positive aspects to these digital tools, when used properly, but the negative will perhaps outweigh the positive if we don't heed the warning signs.
On the way from the Psychology Building back to my home, I snapped these photos of a gorgeous sunset.

2018/01/10 (Wednesday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
A milkman delivers milk after an air raid on London, 1940 Tape recorder, 1932 Princess (later Queen) Elizabeth of Great Britain doing technical repair work during her WW II military service, 1944 (1) History in pictures: [Left] A milkman delivers milk after an air raid on London, 1940. [Center] Tape recorder, 1932. [Right] Princess (later Queen) Elizabeth of Great Britain doing technical repair work during her WW II military service, 1944.
(2) Hundreds of protesters (thousands according to some reports) have been arrested in Iran: Among them, three young men who died shortly after their arrests, purportedly due to suicide, but most likely victims of abuse and torture by security forces. A new report puts the number of "suicides" at five. Nasrin Sotoudeh, human rights defense lawyer and activist, is interviewed about these "suicides" and other developments.
(3) I am amused by Trump supporters lecturing us on morality, over skimpy dresses worn by protesting actresses on Golden Globes Awards night.
(4) Persian Women in Tech: Sepideh Nasiri, founder and CEO of PWIT, aims to alter tech's dreary statistics of women founders and engineers.
(5) Ten brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Lawmakers invited to support #MeToo and #TimesUp by wearing black during Trump's first SOTU Address.
- Mudslide death toll at 17: Many Montecito residents were caught off-guard by mudslides and flash-floods.
- Montecito and Summerland residents must boil drinking water: Restaurants in the area ordered closed.
- Before and after photos: Looking north from the Olive Mill Road US 101 overpass.
- Frigid cold in the US, scorching heat in Australia, and, now, sand dunes of Sahara covered with snow.
- More bad news for book lovers: The US chain Book World is closing after 42 years in business.
- Time report: Trump made 1950 false or misleading claims in 347 days in office; an average of 5.6 per day!
- UCSB's Student Resources Building and its surroundings were closed off today due to a suspicious package.
- Celebrities with big-0 birthdays include Jamie Fox (turned 50 on 12/13) and a very attractive 80-year-old.
- A wonderful Persian poem by Foroughi Bastami, and its more readable version on
(6) Trapped in Santa Barbara for the next few days: US 101, providing the shortest route from Santa Barbara to Ventura is still closed and will remain closed until late Monday. Alternate routes through the mountains are in even worse shape and are also closed. Going north, then over the mountains, south on Interstate 5, and west on State Route 126 is at least 3 hours longer than the normal route. A boating company is offering ferry rides between the two cities, as it did during the La Conchita mud-slides many years ago. So for the next 5 days, we are trapped in Santa Barbara. I hope stores don't run out of food, given that much of the supplies comes to us from Los Angeles.
(7) Final thought for the day: Trump has turned his rage to Clinton, DNC, and the media, but his fitness for presidency was questioned by those around him.

2018/01/09 (Tuesday): Here are six items of potential interest.
 Time magazine cover, issue of January 15, 2018 (1) The optimists: Bill Gates helps edit a special section of Time magazine (issue of January 15, 2018) about optimism, particularly helping kids around the world see their fifth birthdays. He recommends giving to UNICEF and Save the Children. A list of articles in the special section follows.
- Warren Buffet: The Genius of America
- Laurene Powell Jobs: What We Choose to See
- Trevor Noah: The Thing About Millennials
- Malala Yousafzai: Who Runs the World? Girls!
- Lili Cheng: Beauty in the Machine
- Samantha Buds Haeberlein: Closer to a Cure
- Steven Pinker: The Bright Side
- Bono: Why Men Must Also Fight for Women and Girls
- Ava DuVernay: The Future We Will Make
- John Lewis: Necessary Trouble
- Marcus Samuelson: The Kids Table (pictorial)
- Bill Gates (Interview): Hope By the Numbers
(2) Women ruled at Sunday night's Golden Globe Awards: Oprah Winfrey delivered a particularly passionate and pointed speech in accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award (the first black woman so honored), leading to speculation that she plans to run for president in 2020. I do hope that she remains passionate and politically active in defending the rights of women and other oppressed and disadvantaged groups, but hope that she will support a more qualified candidate for president. [1-minute video]
(3) The silver lining: Having a mentally-disturbed president allows us to learn more about psychology. We are taught from childhood that highly capable people tend to be humbler, whereas marginally capable people tend to flaunt their abilities. In psychology, this cognitive bias is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. Wikipedia has a good article on the subject.
(4) Largest known prime number gets larger: The set of prime numbers is infinite, but at any given time, the largest known prime is finite, and it grows with time. Right now, the record is held by the Mersenne prime 2^(77,232,917) – 1, which has over 23 million digits.
(5) Eight brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Winter storm causes havoc in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties in the wakes of recent wildfires.
- Five people killed in Montecito mudslides, south of Santa Barbara; US 101 closed in both directions.
- Here is another report about devastating floods, debris flows, and mudslides in the Santa Barbara area.
- Pacific railroad through Montecito, near Santa Barbara, suffers major damage from flood and debris.
- US's aging and challenged power grid has responded well to frigid weather, with only minor problems.
- Highway turned into pond: Northbound view of US 101, from Santa Brabara's Olive Mill Road overpass.
- Times Square billboard in New York City supports #TimesUp and #MeToo women's movements.
- Borowitz report (humor): "Trump warns that President Oprah would force Americans to read."
(6) Final thought for the day: By mid-afternoon today, the sun came out in my neck of the woods. A few broken branches were what reminded us of the storm that was, but 10 miles to the south, the devastation tells a different story. According to a live news conference, broadcast on KCLU in late afternoon, firefighters are back in action in Montecito and Carpinteria as search-and-rescue crew. There are 13 confirmed deaths. With many more still missing and dozens trapped in affected areas, the death toll likely to rise. The storm's rain total of 2-4 inches was not that impressive, but some areas got 0.55 inch within 5 minutes, causing flash-floods and debris flow. US 101 is still closed, and it is not knowh when it will re-open.

2018/01/08 (Monday): Here are four items of potential interest.
Cover image of Harper Lee's 'To Kill a Mockingbird' (1) Book review: Lee, Harper, To Kill a Mockingbird, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Sissy Spacek, Harper Audio, 2014.
[My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Having recently perused Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman, I decided to revisit her classic 1960 book, the one whose critical and commercial success reportedly froze Lee's literary career, owing to her fear of not being able to match the quality of her prior work. Watchman, based on an early draft of Mockingbird, was indeed not in the same league as the latter.
A detailed review of Mockingbird won't be very useful, given the thousands upon thousands of published reviews (Amazon lists more than 10,000 reviews, with an average 5-star rating, and GoodReads offers 75,000, with an average 4.26-star rating). There is a Wikipedia page on the book, an edition of Spark Notes, and many other sources to learn about the book and its significance. So, I will focus on how my perception of the book changed from perusing it a second time, compared with what I remembered from my earlier reading and from the movie based on it.
The main change in my perception of the book is that the trial of a black man falsely accused of rape, with Atticus Finch (the father of the story-teller Jean Louise, nick-named Scout) serving as his court-appointed attorney, was but a small part of the story, whereas it is the part readers tend to remember most vividly.
The book is really about life in a small Alabama town, in which everyone knows everyone else. Most of the large number of characters showing up in the story are cartoonish, but the story as a whole is warm and absorbing. The narrative offers many detours into the peculiarities of rural life and the plight of children and adults who, despite being in what we would consider harsh circumstances, lead life contentedly, if not enthusiastically. Having the story told by a young girl (with her older brother Jem also being a major character) adds to its charm and effectiveness.
Almost all Americans have read Mockingbird as part of school curricula. I strongly recommend a re-reading, in view of racial scabs that, in the words of former RNC Chair Michael Steele, have been turned into fresh wounds by Donald Trump and other people in leadership positions picking at them. If you peruse the audiobook version, you will find that actress Sissy Spacek's voice vastly improves the experience.
(2) Fire and fury over Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury: Trump sent his loyal supporters to Sunday talk shows to defend him against allegations that he is unfit to serve as US President. After a heated interview with CNN's Jake Tapper, White House senior adviser Stephen Miller had to be escorted off the set by security.
(3) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Helping stage Trump's "Fake News" awards could get WH staff in trouble for abusing their powers.
- PDF of Fire and Fury circulates on-line: Unclear whether it's intended to hurt Trump or Wolff & his publisher.
- WH staff: Trump watches 4-8 hours of TV daily, starts meetings at 11 AM, and retires to residence at 6 PM.
- SpaceX successfully launches Falcon 9, world's largest-ever rocket, delivering top-secret satellite to orbit.
- Beware of tax scams that proliferate with the arrival of each new year. [Tips from UC administration]
- United for Children of Kermanshah: Fundraising concert, January 14, 2018, Palace Theater. Los Angeles.
(4) Passages from an article in Germany's Der Spiegel, one of the largest weekly magazines in Europe: "Donald Trump is not fit to be president of the United States. He does not possess the requisite intellect and does not understand the significance of the office he holds nor the tasks associated with it. He doesn't read. He doesn't bother to peruse important files and intelligence reports and knows little about the issues that he has identified as his priorities. His decisions are capricious and they are delivered in the form of tyrannical decrees. ... He is a man free of morals. As has been demonstrated hundreds of times, he is a liar, a racist and a cheat. I feel ashamed to use these words, as sharp and loud as they are. But if they apply to anyone, they apply to Trump. And one of the media's tasks is to continue telling things as they are: Trump has to be removed from the White House. Quickly. He is a danger to the world."

2018/01/07 (Sunday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Hard-working women from a cotton mill, 1909 This large Times-Square billboard, bought by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, declared that 'War is over if you want it', 1969 Irony, as people wait in a breadline in Ohio, during The Great Depression, 1937 (photo by Margaret Bourke-White) (1) History in pictures: [Left] Hard-working women from a cotton mill, 1909. [Center] This large Times-Square billboard, bought by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, declared that 'War is over if you want it', 1969. [Right] Irony, as people wait in a breadline in Ohio, during The Great Depression, 1937 (photo by Margaret Bourke-White).
(2) Aftermath of Thomas Fire: From south end of Santa Barbara to Carpinteria, flood and debris threaten residents during major storm forecast for the next couple of days. On this map, blue indicates the areas were evacuation may become necessary.
(3) Quote of the day: "What I saw the president do ... was pick at the scab of race, until it became a wound again." ~ Former RNC Chair Michael Steele
(4) Does academia have a sexual misconduct problem? According to this Newsweek article, it does, and the situation is worst in Humanities, history in particular.
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Collision of oil tanker and freight ship off the east coast of China leaves 32 people missing.
- Of interest to those who will be traveling in the near future: Widespread delays and flight cancellations.
- While parts of the US suffer from record-low temps, Australian roads are melting from extreme heat.
- US Air Force releases videos showing the interception of two Russian jets over Europe in late 2017.
- Bannon denies statements about Donald Trump Jr. and seems to be begging for forgiveness from DJT.
- Farm animals in search of a stable genius. [Image]
(6) Something's brewing in California: Yesterday's 5.31-PM, magnitude-3.8 quake, centered 8 miles west of my home in Goleta, about 1.4 miles under the ocean, was the latest in a steady stream of smallish quakes in California that may be omens of a larger one in the near future.
(7) Clash over the book Fire and Fury: Appearing with Jake Tapper on CNN, Trump Senior Adviser Stephen Miller seemed to think that he is entitled to ask his own questions, rather than answer the host's questions.
Here is Trump's delusional tweet afterwards: "Jake Tapper of Fake News CNN just got destroyed in his interview with Stephen Miller of the Trump Administration. Watch the hatred and unfairness of this CNN flunky!"
(8) I put in a longer walk than usual today, in anticipation of two rainy days, beginning tomorrow: My walk took me to Cathedral Oaks Rd. and by Goleta Valley Junior High, where all three of my kids attended long ago.
(9) Final thought for the day: Tonight's Golden Globe Awards produced few surprises. I am not familiar with any of the TV shows or actors, so I focus here on movies. Best-film awards went to "Lady Bird" and "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri." Guillermo del Toro was honored as the best director. Male acting awards went to James Franco and Gary Oldman. Female acting honorees were Saoirse Ronan and Frances McDormand. Seth Myers did a good job as host, beginning his monolog with "Good evening, ladies and remaining gentlemen!" Heres the complete list of awards.

2018/01/06 (Saturday): Here are six items of potential interest.
One of the first Egyptian women to wear a short dress, early 1960s The Bridge House (Ambleside, UK), an ultimate maneuver in 17th-century tax avoidance, was built on a river between two jurisdictions Curious girl on roller-skates watches army patrol during the Battle of the Bogside, Northern Ireland, 1969 (photo by Clive Limpkin) (1) History in pictures: [Left] One of the first Egyptian women to wear a short dress, early 1960s [Center] The Bridge House (Ambleside, UK), an ultimate maneuver in 17th-century tax avoidance, was built on a river between two jurisdictions. [Right] Curious girl on roller-skates watches army patrol during the Battle of the Bogside, Northern Ireland, 1969 (photo by Clive Limpkin).
(2) Higher education is being undermined: Call me a romantic, but I have a problem with viewing college education as an investment whose pay-off is a job at the end of the line. Higher education isn't an investment by individuals but rather an investment by society and the main pay-offs aren't well-paying jobs, but societal well-being and civility. So, the recommendation of this article, that students must "think like investors" to maximize payoff of college education, is misguided in my humble opinion.
(3) Fashion show, featuring a child bridal outfit, designed to bring attention to the plight of Pakistani girls and raise funds for dealing with the problem. [Video]
(4) Seven brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Clinton Foundation is under active Federal investigation for corruption.
- Feminism is a Zionist plot: Awaiting the reaction of Iranian women to this pronouncement by Iran's Leader!
- Fusion GPS founders ask that their entire congressional testimony be released in lieu of selective leaks.
- Sessions not invited to Trump's Camp David retreat with congressional leaders and cabinet members.
- Weather vs. climate: Day-to-day/week-to-week changes vs. decade-to-decade/century-to-century trends.
- Our stable genius president at work, trying to figure out how this works! [Photo]
- Cartoon of the day: The White House in a blizzard! [Image] [Source: The New Yorker]
(5) The Iran story takes another turn: The Islamic regime is now officially accusing former President Ahmadinejad as having a hand in the ongoing unrests, having previously pointed fingers at Trump, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. Some hardliners are on record accusing Ahmadinejad as being a closet Zionist, and the new narrative of hinting at a coordinated "sedition" by Ahmadinejad (who has a small base of support, but is generally despised in Iran) and hated foreign actors can make the regime's narrative stick. Internal opposition figures (the reformists) are taking a credibility hit, because they stayed silent, offered lukewarm support to protesters, or hedged their bets by playing both sides. There is some hypothesizing that if push comes to shove and the regime is seriously threatened, it will play the ultimate reformist card of bringing to power former officials now under house arrest, to save its behind. The protests are still continuing after two-dozen deaths and a couple of thousands of arrests.
(6) [Final thought for the day] Faux populism: Promising new jobs, higher wages, and great healthcare to the middle and lower classes, while stealing from or defunding social programs to line the pockets of one's rich friends with tax cuts and rollback of regulations put on the books to protect citizens from greedy businesses.

2018/01/05 (Friday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Trend in computer science enrollment of women, compared with other professional fields (1) Attracting women to computer science and engineering: UK is among the countries that have realized the importance of facilitating the entry of women to various fields of engineering, particularly computing. Publications of the UK-based British Computer Society (BCS) and Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) often carry articles about such efforts and their outcomes. We in the US must resume our efforts in this regard, which were quite successful a couple of decades ago, with the fraction of women computing majors rising to 37%, before taking a nosedive and settling at half that level in recent years. Med schools have been most successful in this regard, with the fraction of female students now hovering at just over 50%.
(2) Southernmost part of Switzerland: As I turned on my computer this morning, this breathtakingly beautiful aerial photo filled the screen. Thought I should share!
(3) Michael Wolff talks to "Today Show," as his book about the Trump White House is released: His body language shows discomfort, which is troubling, but he says that after many years of reporting, he has not had a single retraction or even correction. We'll see over the next few days whether his credibility remains intact.
(4) Bad news on the computer security front: Cyber-security experts have discovered two major/widespread security flaws, Meltdown and Spectre. These bugs could enable hackers to steal the entire memory contents of computers, including mobile devices, personal computers, and cloud-network servers. The Intel-specific Meltdown flaw can be exploited by renting space on a cloud service and then taking sensitive information from other customers. The Spectre flaw is more difficult to exploit, but it affects most processors currently in use and there is no known patch. A fix for it may not become available until new-generation chips are introduced.
(5) Quote of the day: "The nuclear arms race is like two sworn enemies standing waist-deep in gasoline, one with three matches, the other with five." ~ Carl Sagan
(6) The Borowitz Report (humor): "Donald J. Trump, legendary among U.S. Presidents for his aversion to reading, demanded on Thursday that members of his White House circle act out Michael Wolff's new book, Fire and Fury, in a command performance in the Oval Office. According to those who witnessed the dramatic presentation, Jared Kushner played the role of Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump played the role of Ivanka Trump, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders played Steve Bannon."
(7) Claiming to have saved Christmas, Trump shows no mercy for science: "After almost a year in office, President Trump has yet to name a science adviser and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Since World War II, no American president has shown greater disdain for science—or more lack of awareness of its likely costs."
(8) [Final thought for the day] Putting our teenagers in a state of perpetual jetlag: Tonight's PBS Newshour had a final segment about teenagers' biological clocks having been programmed to stay up later and get up later than older folks. Forcing them to start school at 8:00 AM is akin to putting them into a state of perpetual jetlag. The idea of starting schools later isn't new. For me, this is at least the third time over the past couple of decades that I am hearing these arguments for later school start times, yet there has been no action, owing to various purported difficulties such as coordination with parents' work schedules, day-care, and after-school sports programs. As a nation famous for solving the most challenging technical problems, I am surprised that these problems have not been addressed once and for all.

2018/01/04 (Thursday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Cover image of the new book 'Fire and Fury,' along with photos of Trump and Bannon (1) Talk of the town: The new book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, by Michael Wolff, asserts that Trump and his allies expected to lose the election and were preparing to monetize on the fame resulting from an almost-presidency. When he won, and after the initial shock wore off, they started grooming their post-presidency business opportunities. Despite Trump's and his lawyers' temper tantrums, discussions of Wolff's book, which provides fuel for the "unfit" argument as a strategy to unseat Trump, are here to stay. There is just too much weirdness to dismiss it all as "fake news."
The juisiciest accounts come from Steve Bannon (now delegated to the ranks of former coffee-boys, after his open criticisms), whose motivation in dissing his former boss is unclear to me. Bannon has a small group of loyal followers, the Alt-Right, which helped put Trump over the finish line, but in and of themselves, are inadequate to even win House or Senate seats.
(2) Quote of the day: "The small eraser at the end of a long pencil is a reminder that you will have a second or maybe a third chance, but the number of chances is limited." ~ Anonymous
(3) There is unrest in Iran, but people are wary of overthrowing a government in vague hopes that something better will emerge: The 1979 experience, where a coalition of revolutionaries promised sociopolitical freedoms and economic benefits, without having a clue as to how to actually implement reforms (or, if you are a cynic, without even believing in their promises) has made people vulnerable to the Islamic Republic's lies that the uprising is led from abroad. Trump, Israel, and Saudi Arabia egging people on is unhelpful in this regard. As the Persian saying goes, "Having been bitten by a snake makes you fear a black-and-white twine."
(4) To Iranian friends: Please refrain from reposting anonymous calls for street gatherings at specific locations. This is quite dangerous, as those heeding the call may walk into an ambush by the Islamic Republic thugs. I know this is a catch-22 situation, as opposition forces are hesitant to put names of individuals or organizations on their calls, yet there is no responsible alternative to posting material solely from known or verified sources.
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines from around the Internet:
- US suspends security assistance to Pakistan: Funds and military equipment are being withheld
- The White House bans use of personal cell phones in the West Wing, citing security concerns
- Iranian expats watch protests unfold throughout Iran with great interest and anxiety
- The Dow Jones Industrial average closed above 25,000 for the first time in history
- Another 39 Sears locations and 64 K-Mart stores are slated to close soon
- Michael Wolff's expose on Trump White House, Fire and Fury, will go on sale tomorrow
(6) Southern California Edison is being blamed for the largest fire in California's history: Details are sketchy, but already law firms are advertising to attract clients to sue SCE for damages in the wake of Thomas Fire.
(7) Crossword-puzzle clock, given to me as a holiday gift by my daughter: It comes with real puzzle clues!
(8) Final thought for the day: In e-mail exchanges among college buddies of 50 years ago, offering new-year's greetings and discussing plans for celebrating our 50th year since graduating from Tehran University's Engineering College (Daaneshkadeh-ye Fanni), I was asked to respond to another member's poem for the occasion. Here is my response in Persian.

2018/01/03 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Iconic image of a young Iranian woman raising a white scarf during recent street protests (1) Iconic image of a young Iranian woman raising her white scarf during recent street protests: Iranian women are on the front lines of the movement to claim social and political rights. White-scarf Wednesdays constitute a symbolic protest against mandatory hijab laws in Iran.
(2) A nice logical-reasoning puzzle: The numbers 1-81 should appear in this partially-filled 9 x 9 grid so that successive values are horizontally or vertically adjacent. [Hint: 6 must go between 5 and 7.]
(3) Resistance is working: Trump signs order dissolving controversial election fraud (aka voter suppression) commission after states buck information requests. [Source: AP]
(4) Trump loves street protesters, except when they march against him, in which case, they are professional protesters incited by the media.
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Steve Bannon joins the ranks of former coffee boys in the Trump campaign and White House!
- A smallish Target store is coming to Santa Barbara's upper State St., corner of La Cumbre Rd.
- First drops of rain from a minor storm just showed up in Goleta. More welcome rain will arrive next week.
- America-first leads quite naturally to me-first: Everything else is considered socialism.
- Donald Trump and Mike Pence celebrating the New Year: "That's more like it!" [Cartoon]
- More cartoons: Bully seen by parents as presidential material [Image 1]; The art of distraction [Image 2]
(6) Is life in your country for people like you better now than it was 50 years ago? This is the question asked by the Pew Research Center of 43,000 people in 38 countries (unfortunately, not including Iran). Here are the percentages of 'yes' answers for some of those countries: Vietnam (88%); South Korea (68%); Russia (50%); USA (37%); Italy (23%); Venezuela (10%). [Map]
(7) My comment on a friend's Facebook post, purportedly showing women being mistreated at Kahrizak (a notorious prison in Iran), claiming that the "real" video has been released by former Iranian president Ahmadinejad, now considered an opposition member: "Kahrizak happened during Ahmadinejad's presidency by his close allies and friends. To think that he cares about people of Iran by releasing such a video is simple-minded at best. This is most definitely a forgery. [P.S.: I am not saying that women, and men, weren't tortured or otherwise mistreated, only that this particular video is fake.]"
(8) NASA aims for late-2019 flight test of Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, our next-generation deep-space launch vehicle. [Time magazine]
(9) Space exploration, including going to the moon again, will be challenging, to say the least: In 1966, NASA was allocated 4.4% of the federal budget, compared with today's 0.5%. [Time magazine]

2018/01/02 (Tuesday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Rare photo of Hoover Dam from behind, taken during construction, 1936 Bertha Benz driving the Benz Patent-Motorwagen, 1886 Russian soldier carries a statue head of Hitler, Berlin, May 1945 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Rare photo of Hoover Dam from behind, taken during construction, 1936. [Center] Bertha Benz driving the Benz Patent-Motorwagen, 1886. [Right] Russian soldier carries a statue head of Hitler, Berlin, May 1945.
(2) Unrest in Iran: A Facebook friend's apt warning about exercising care before accepting reports on street protests. There is an unusually high degree of misinformation and disinformation, which is further muddled by quite a few external actors trying to advance their agendas by encouraging and directing the protests.
(3) Cartoon of the day: #MeToo Productions presents "Twilight of the Creeps" [Full-page LA Times cartoon, resembling ads for blockbuster movies]
(4) Half-dozen notable headlines from Newsweek on-line:
- Mike Pence promises Trump won't repeat Obama's 'shameful mistake' on Iran protests
- China's new hypersonic missiles could hit anywhere in the US in under an hour: Chinese experts
- Gretchen Carlson takes over as Miss America's board chair in the wake of sexual misconduct scandal
- GOP needs new leadership after backing a president who has promoted conspiracy theories: Expert
- Vandal paints swastikas on mosque, but Muslims pay fine to keep him out of jail
- US ignores terrorists, Pakistan says, as ambassador summoned over Trump's lies-and-deceit tweet
(5) Kenichi Yamamoto, Father of Mazda's revolutionary rotary internal combustion engine (invented by German engineer Felix Wankel), dead at 95: The engine has few moving parts and is thus more reliable than conventional car engines, with their reciprocating pistons, connecting rods, and crankshafts.
(6) Playground taunt: My dad is richer than your dad! Presidential taunt: My nuclear button is bigger than your nuclear button!
(7) The world's last case of polio may have already happened: We will know for sure soon. [From an article by Jefferey Kluger, Time magazine, double-issue of December 25, 2017, and January 1, 2018]
(8) Final thought for the day: "A man raised with access to the same gamut of emotions and choices as women does not say, "Women are special," as Donald Trump recently averred after disbelieving Roy Moore's accusers; he does not delegate sugar and spice and humility and gentleness to the ladies, while defining himself through anger, lust and pride. Boys will not be merely boys. If we let them, boys will be human." ~ Faith Salie, in her "Viewpoint" column entitled "How to Raise a Sweet Son in an Era of Angry Men" (Time magazine, double-issue of December 25, 2017, and January 1, 2018)

2018/01/01 (Monday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Happy new year image (1) A very happy New Year to everyone! Hoping that your new year is filled with laughter, I'll get you started with a few funny new-year's resolutions.
"To tolerate fools more gladly, provided this does not encourage them to take up more of my time." ~ James Agate
"To love myself as Kanye loves himself and to believe in myself as Kanye believes in himself." ~ Anonymous
"To stop doing all the stuff I resoved to do in 2017." ~ Anonymous
"To catch up on my resolutions for 2015, 2016, and 2017." ~ Anonymous
"To break all my resolutions on January 1, because it would free up the rest of the year!" ~ Anonymous
"What's the point of new-year's resolutions? You can make resolutions and give up on them a few days later any time of the year." ~ Anonymous
(2) Socially responsible design and use of computers: The organization Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR) took shape during 1981-1983, in the wake of concerns for the feasibility and safety of the proposed SDI missile defense system and, more generally, the perils of using computers in warfare. Later, it broadened its activities to educating policy-makers and the public on the responsible use of computer technology, given the potential adverse impact of technology on societal well-being. The organization was dissolved in 2013, purportedly because there were quite a few other entities (including professional computing societies, such as IEEE and ACM) that pursued aspects of its agenda. One could argue that social responsibility and professional ethics must be built into engineering curricula, so that no product is ever developed or no policy advocated without consideration of its social impacts, thus obviating the need for a separate advocate and watchdog. However, in the fast-paced, goal-oriented world of high-tech, ethical considerations are sometimes not given their proper dues, creating the need for on-going reminders to both computing professionals and technology policy-makers.
(3) Isfahan's Friday Prayers Leader, a close ally of Iran's Supreme Leader, says he is shocked by protesters on the streets chanting "death to Khamenei" and praise for the former Shah and monarchy.
(4) Polls show that Biden would beat Trump overwhelmingly in 2020: Even if true, my advice to the Democratic Party would be to look beyond 2020 and go for fresh faces. Beating Trump should be easy, so take the opportunity to rebuild the party. Future young voters will not stomach a government with Biden (77-81 during a possible first term) at the helm, flanked by Pelosi (79-83) and Schumer (69-73) as congressional leaders.
(5) Seven brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Sea-plane crash into a Sydney river kills the CEO of a major company and five close family members.
- Trump halts Obama's $13 billion Amtrak plan to rebuild a crucial passageway from NJ to NY.
- World's youngest female leader: Jacinda Arderns quick wit and humility won over New Zealanders.
- Australia bars registered child-sex offenders from international travel. [Time magazine]
- Quote of the day: "Write your sorrows in the sand and carve your blessings in stone." ~ Anonymous
- Former-President Obama shares on Facebook his 2017 reading list and playlist.
- On January 1, 1999, the day after I signed up for Facebook. I became friends with my daughter. [Video]
(6) How to overcome the holiday blues: Five pieces of advice from celebrities, according to Time magazine (double-issue of December 25, 2017, and January 1, 2018).
- Katie Couric: Cherish lost loved ones while enjoying those you have.
- Robin Roberts: If illness changes your traditions, build new ones.
- Patton Oswalt: Don't fear a holiday alone.
- Kesha: Care for yourself before looking after everyone else.
- Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly: After tragedy, try a simpler celebration.
(7) A forgotten 100-year-old therapy using the bacteria-eating phage virus is saving patients infected with antibiotic-resistant bugs (superbugs). [Time magazine]
(8) Final thought for the day: "I remember what it was like before penicillin. I lost a lot of my classmates. It could happen again. If we don't deal with antibiotic resistance in real time, it will get worse." ~ Dr. Carl Merril, an early phage therapy pioneer, quoted in Time magazine

Blog Entries for 2017

2017/12/31 (Sunday): Here are four items of potential interest.
Ten top new-year's resolutions (1) [Reposting from years past] New year's resolutions: Everyone makes them, but very few keep them. The culprit here may be the overambitious nature of most people's resolutions. Make small, incremental changes and build up on them. If you don't exercise at all, resolve to do it for one minute, rather than half an hour, per day. As Oliver Burkeman suggested in his Newsweek magazine article, issue of December 24, 2012, "willpower is a depletable resource: the more of it you use making one change, the less you'll have left over to make others. Pushing yourself to exercise leaves you more susceptible to burgers."
(2) Los Angeles Times reports on anti-regime protests in Iran: The protesters are said to be motivated by economic hardship and government corruption. There are some reports that the demonstrators did not represent democratic forces. One version attributed the unrest to Ahmadinejad and his followers. Another report pointed the finger at Mujahedin-e Khalgh. A third report credited royalists, who want the return of monarchy. Of course, these reports may have been planted by the mullahs, who control a vast media empire. Nothing coming out of Iran can be trusted. A fourth, more plausible, report claimed that government hardliners organized the protests as an affront to Rouhani's government but that they then lost control of the crowd, who began chanting anti-Khamenei slogans. The official Islamic Republic response is, as usual, off-target, blaming Trump and the US government. Nothing coming out of Iran can be trusted. I'll have to do some research before forming an opinion.
(3) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Women's March Santa Barbara: De La Guerra Plaza, Saturday, January 20, 2018, 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM
- Killings of cops and others continue, while only thoughts and prayers are offered in response.
- Facebook's reminder of the 9th anniversary of my membership, which began on December 31, 2008.
- A year-in-review album created by a Facebook friend, to which I contributed a photo and a message.
- Julie Andrews' wonderful rendition of "Auld Lang Syne": A very happy New Year's Eve to everyone!
- New Year's Eve with my family members, in Ventura, California. [Photos]
(4) What makes America great is innovation and know-how, not confrontation and flag-waving: In a "Historical Reflection" article in Communications of the ACM (issue of January 2018), Thomas Haigh writes under the title "Defining American Greatness: IBM from Watson to Trump," using IBM as an example of what makes America great. "Decade after decade, IBM has been one of the world's largest, most profitable, and most admired companies. Of all American businesses, only General Electric, Apple, Microsoft, and ExxonMobile have generated more wealth. Despite recent troubles, it has been ranked in the 2010s as the number one company for leaders (Fortune), the greenest company (Newsweek), the second most valuable global brand (Interbrand), the second most respected company (Barron's) and the fifth most admired (Fortune)." Putting it succinctly, greatness results from long-term investments in new technologies and platforms that might be deemed risky.

2017/12/30 (Saturday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Chart showing the level of destruction caused by various quakes on the Richter scale (1) Richter scale for earthquakes: Prompted by a Telegram message that contained inaccurate claims, I did some research from Wikipedia, US Geological Survey's Web site, and other sources. Quakes that we can feel have magnitudes of 3.0 or more, although the logarithmic scale has no bottom and the rating can go to zero or below zero. The more destructive earthquakes range in magnitude from 5.5 to 8.9. One-point difference in Richter scale represents a ten-fold difference in amplitude and an approximate 32-fold change in destructive power (10^1.5 = 31.6, with the 1.5 exponent relating amplitude to the energy released).
(2) Bertrand Russel on science: "Science is at no moment quite right, but it is seldom quite wrong, and has, as a rule, a better chance of being right than the theories of the unscientific."
(3) Mahmonir Nadim, an amputee who left Iran 5 years ago and now lives in Sao Paulo, Brazil, shares her life story and sings about women's ordeal in Iran. [4-minute video]
(4) Seven brief items from Newsweek on-line and other sources:
- Ban on openly-transgender military recruits practically reversed
- Year-end parties across the US will be affected by super-cold weather
- Here's a down side of untraceable cash: Crypto-currency expert kidnapped for $1 million ransom in Bitcoin.
- Louisiana man, 67, found to be behind "Nigerian Prince" e-mail scams
- Putin vows Russia will keep permanent presence in Syria
- Man guns down his California law-firm co-worker, before shooting himself
- The Dems are back with fresh new faces: SNL skit
(5) Nectarines, an excellent indie band, will perform along with other groups on January 13, 2018, at the Echo (1822 W. Sunset Blvd.) in Los Angeles, beginning at 8:00 PM. [Sample music]
(6) Trump claims that he has brought "Merry Christmas" back: Let's see if President Obama had declared a war on Christmas! [Video of the Obamas saying "Merry Christmas" repeatedly]
(7) It is extremely difficult to keep track of Trump's blatant lies and misleading statements, which are issued at a high rate, but some are striving to keep a record: To mimic Trump, "During 2017, we have had the largest number of presidential lies in the history of this country; believe me!"
(8) Of possible interest to friends in the Los Angeles area: I was researching events in the Los Angeles area during the first half of January, and found some that interest me. Sharing the Web link and the events I found.
01/01-07: Lights at the Zoo, Griffith Park
01/01-07: Enchanted Forest of Light, La Canada Flintridge; a one-mile walk through lighting displays
01/02: La Brea Tar Pits, free museum day, 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM, with on-line ticket reservation
01/08-14: Santa Monica's Restaurant Week, featuring meals using a chosen ingredient (pomegranate)
01/12-14: Sondheim musical "Into the Woods," Cupcake Theater, evening, 11020 W. Magnolia, N. Hollywood
01/13: Free classical concert at SGI Auditorium, 525 Wilshire Blvd., 2:00-4:00 PM; Santa Monica Symphony
01/15: LACMA free museum day in honor of MLK
[Also of possible interest: LA Weekly's concert calendar, which is sortable by various keys.]

2017/12/29 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
LA's Staples Center, tonight (1) Mementos of a failed attempt to watch a basketball game at Staples Center tonight: By the time a friend and I got there, only super-expensive seats were available, even if we opted for two singles. The game was between the Lakers and the Clippers, which essentially doubles the number of locals flocking to the arena. We made it a night-on-the-town instead, dining and going to see the movie "All the Money in the World," the story of the kidnapping of J. Paul Getty's grandson, of the gruesome "ear sent in the mail" fame. There was as much intrigue in the making of the film as in the story itself, with Christopher Plummer replacing the disgraced Kevin Spacey just a few weeks before the film's scheduled release date.
[PS: Having lost the previous two matches against the Clippers this year, the Lakers sought revenge, but they ended up losing 106-121.]
(2) Having served up more whoppers than Burger King, it was only natural that Trump would win PolitiFact's "Lie of the Year" award! The lie that earned him the distinction is the May 2017 statement, "This Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story," a lie that he has repeated in various forms many times.
(3) Trump gives an interview to NYT and, suddenly, it's no longer "the failing New York Times"; rather, it is now a paper that would fail without Trump!
(4) Mission accomplished, not: Trump claims that he destroyed ISIS (before it struck again in Afghanistan) and that he won the non-existent war on Christmas.
(5) Most Americans dream of having a white Christmas, but this year it got a little too white for some! Hope everyone stays safe in the ongoing blizzard conditions!
(6) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- New York City fire kills 12: Casualties are expected to rise. At least 4 children are among the dead.
- Investigators looking into the contents of Huma Abadin's e-mails found on Anthony Weiner's computer
- Hotels are doing away with "Do Not Disturb" signs to allow daily checks on rooms.
- Quote: "Don't explain. Your friends do not need it, and your enemies will not believe you." ~ Paulo Coelho
- Humor: NRA will endorse the new Apple iGun. [Video]
- Concert performer's 98-year-old grandma steals the show when she is brought on stage.
(7) Protesting mandatory dress code, World chess champion won't go to Saudi Arabia to defend her titles: Saudi Arabia has its backward laws, but why is the Chess Federation so insensitive to restrictions on women?
(8) Apparently America has already become so great that we don't need the HIV/AIDS Council: Trump fires all Council members by FedEx letter in retaliation for their criticism of White House Policy.
(9) RISC, 35 years later: This is one in a series of articles celebrating the 50th anniversary of IEEE Computer Society by revisiting key topics that have appeared in IEEE Computer magazine over the years. This article, by the UC Berkeley researcher who coined the term "RISC" and designed one of the first processors of the type, examines how the notion of reducing or simplifying instruction sets has affected the progress of computer technology since 1982. Even though CISC, or complex instruction set computers, represented most prominently by Intel's 80x86 architecture, won the battle in the PC and server markets now dominating cloud installations (ironically, offering high performance by translating the complex 80x86 instructions into simple underlying instructions, which are then executed by RISC-like hardware), currently 99% of all processors shipped are RISC products from ARM, MIPS, POWER, and SPARC, to name a few. Products for the mobile market just can't afford the chip real estate needed by CISC's translation mechanisms and their attendant power usage. This is why close to 100% of Apple and Android phones and tablets use RISC processors. It is estimated that Amazon, Google, and Microsoft clouds collectively contain about 10M servers, which is only 4 hours' worth of RISC chip shipments in 2017. [Source: Patterson, David, "Reduced Instruction Set Computers Then and Now," IEEE Computer, December 2017, pp. 10-12.]

2017/12/27 (Wednesday): Hoping to make a dent in my book reviews backlog, I offer two reviews at once.
Cover image for Susan Cain's 'Quiet' (1) Book review: Cain, Susan, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking, unabridged audiobook on 9 CDs, read by Kathe Mazur, Books on Tape, 2012.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Introversion is a misunderstood human trait, often confused with shyness or self-doubt. Shy people fear negative judgment, whereas introverts prefer quiet, minimally-stimulating environments. We learn form this book that shyness/assertiveness and introversion/extroversion are orthogonal dichotomies, producing four distinct categories of people. Shy extroverts are exemplified by Barbra Streisand, who has an outgoing personality but is at times paralyzed by stage fright. A shy person and an introvert may both sit quietly at a board meeting, one being afraid to speak up and the other clammed up from overstimulation. Given the similar outward signs, it's no wonder the two traits are mixed up.
Far from being insecure, coy, or anti-social, many introverts simply thrive on contemplation and self-examination. They make great business or political leaders. We owe some of the most exquisite works of art and many of our greatest scientific and technological innovations to introverts. Yet, introversion, like shyness, is viewed as a negative trait in many Western societies, and introverts are often disenfranchised in our world, which is increasingly enamored with fast-talkers and jokesters. Ours is a "culture of personality," which has grown to over-value extroversion.
By providing many examples of successful introverts, and drawing upon the latest psychological research, Cain convinces us that introversion isn't a dysfunction, but rather a totally legitimate way of experiencing the world and contributing to it. Cain doesn't just provide validation to introverts but much practical advice on how to overcome the many barriers they face.
Every introvert should read Quiet. Writing on, reviewer Karen Hall states that this book saved her life. Her personality was poorly matched to the demands of a noisy, stressful work environment, with frequent face-to-face interactions, that did not allow any recharging, before getting on with a difficult assignment. From Cain's book, Hall learned that she needed to take action, which eventually led to accommodations by her boss to work from home part or all of the time. Reading Quiet can also benefit extroverts. Just as introverts occasionally play extroverts when absolutely required, the reverse process is also useful, given that solitude facilitates creativity. [This 19-minute TED talk by Cain contains most of the key ideas in the book.]
Cover image of Dan Harris's '10% Happier' (2) Book review: Harris, Dan, 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help that Actually Works, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by the author, Harper Audio, 2014.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This is the story of an ABC News reporter (with stints on "Nightline," "Good Morning America," and weekend evening news), who was once told by his boss that, realistically, he would never land a news anchor's position, because he lacked the requisite looks and voice, so he had better take the "Nightline" position he was being offered. This is one of the anecdotes Harris relates in his well-written and compelling book. Early in his career, Harris struggled with self-confidence issues and anxiety attacks, which drove him to drug and alcohol abuse.
The book's account is honest and full of interesting insights about our selfish tendencies. Harris admits that he has been a jerk for much of his life and that he experienced psychological lows when he did not get the assignments he coveted at work. He was always on edge and felt jealousy toward colleagues who did get the best assignments. He names Peter Jennings and Diane Sawyer as two of his most influential mentors and the people who kept him going, when the going got tough.
Harris's personal pursuit of the happiness formula, alongside his professional assignments (Peter Jennings made him the religion correspondent for ABC News), got him to mingle with self-help and spirituality gurus, such as Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra. He also delved into Buddhism, approaching spirituality as a skeptic throughout. Learning about science-based methods caused Harris to settle on meditation as a key to finding inner peace and happiness. He did struggle with the seeming contradiction of a meditative existence with the drive needed to achieve success in news and other competitive businesses, but eventually came to the conclusion that the two are not mutually exclusive.
The "10% happier" moniker is what Harris devised for responding to skeptics, when they learned about his meditation and spiritual pursuits and pressed him about the results. He advises that meditation strengthens your brain in the same way that curls exercise your biceps. It prepares you for responding, rather than reacting, to events. It inserts a very short delay between stimulus and response, so that you can decide whether you want to say or do what the voice in your head is urging. Consider it the mental equivalent of the short delay inserted in certain live TV shows to guard against the broadcasting of profanities.
If you find yourself uninterested in the book or unwilling to spend much time on it, this 50-minute video of the author's talk and Q&A at Google isn't a bad substitute.

2017/12/26 (Tuesday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
50th and 30th anniversaries to be celebrated at the end of June 2018 (1) Two important anniversaries are coming up for me at the end of June 2018: As the year 2017 draws to a close, prompting me to think about what's coming in 2018, I see the end of my 30th year of service as Professor at UC Santa Barbara, and passage of 50 years since graduating from the Engineering College (Daaneshkadeh-ye Fanni) of Tehran University.
My first 16 (pre-UCSB) years of teaching/research as Assistant/Associate/Full Professor were spent thus: 1.5 years at UCLA; 12 years at Sharif University of Technology (5 years before and 7 years after the Islamic Revolution); 2.5 years in Canada, at Waterloo and Carleton Universities.
Although I did not come to the US as a refugee, practically speaking, I sought refuge here from religious persecution and denial of professional opportunities in my motherland. As I approach retirement, and the kids branch out to become independent adults, I marvel over the trek that took me from a first-grader in Tabriz (where my father was based at the time, as an engineer for Iran's National Railroad) to a recognized expert in computer engineering education and research. A tumultuous journey as it was unfolding, but one that seems rewarding, when I look at it from a point near the end of my career!
(2) The market is overdue for a correction, and when it happens, it will be the Democrats' and media's fault, not Trump's, who took credit for its rise.
(3) Trump's threat to cut funding to countries that opposed the Jerusalem decision shows that he sees US resources as his personal assets.
(4) Christmas Day in Fremont, CA: After having brunch at Black Bear Diner, I headed with a group of family members to Coyote Hills Regional Park for a 4-mile hike to burn off some of the calories! Later in the day, we had a traditional Jewish-Chinese dinner at Ho Chow Restaurant!
(5) Eight brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- A new study casts doubt on the effectiveness of calcium and vitamin-D supplements for bone protection.
- A racist Christmas tradition continues in the Netherlands.
- California's Thomas Fire ended up becoming the State's largest fire ever: A dubious distinction!
- Trump makes his own presidential coin. [Photo]
- After signing the GOP tax bill, Trump told dinner guests at Mar-a-Lago "you all just got a lot richer."
- Looking from behind the windows of a tainted presidency, the FBI, the press, and all else appear tainted.
- Trump thinks the money we pay to the UN is in return for favorable resolutions, a kind of fee for service!
- Seven women to watch in 2018: Three Senators, three Representatives, and an Ambassador. [Image]
(6) With friends like these, who needs enemies? An Iranian woman official, supposedly in charge of women's and family affairs, argues against a law written to protect women from domestic violence, saying that the law would weaken the head-of-household's authority and lead to women dodging their responsibilities.
(7) Strolling in San Francisco the day after Christmas Day: Our small group began at the Ferry Building, exploring its wonderful market and bayfront views, and walked to Pier 45. Along the way, we heard a saxophonist playing Christmas music next to a giant Christmas tree. [Video] We were lucky to be there on a gorgeous sunny day (with mild temperatures and little wind) for visiting unique shops, fine dining, and checking out World War II ships. [Photos] In the afternoon, we visited Ghirardelli Square and ended the day by going to Union Square to see its Christmas decorations. [More photos]

2017/12/24 (Sunday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Merry Christmas (1) A very merry Christmas to everyone: Hope your holidays are joyous and filled with love!
(2) Quote of the day: "Government is instituted for the common good: for the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness of the people; and not for the profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men." ~ John Adams
(3) 'Like's and other addictive social-media features: Did you know that Facebook estimates your mood and feeds you posts and ads accordingly? I scanned this article quickly, but will have to reread it to take in its numerous insights.
(4) The "84 Club," a group of 1984 UCSB graduates, dedicated this campus pyramid "in their hopes for international peace in the Olympic year." [Photos]
(5) Criticism of the GOP tax bill might sink in better when it comes from a member of the 1%: Millionaire shows his 2015 tax return to demonstrate how the just-passed GOP tax bill further enriches the wealthy. He claims that "tax reform" was Trump's greatest con, allowing him to turn a $50M investment in his campaign into a multi-billion-dollar bounty.
(6) Ten brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Mystery solved: Angelinos thought they saw a UFO, but it was actually a Space-X rocket launch.
- Rome's new subway dig unearths archaeological treasures.
- Trump won Alabama by 28 points and Texas by only 9 points. Ted Cruz's 2018 opponent feels optimistic.
- For the first time in US history, more women are enrolled in med schools than men.
- Robot drummer shares jamming session with FB friends.
- Seth Meyers explains Bitcoin: See if you can understand the crypto-currency from this smart comedy skit!
- Azeri music and dance from the Iran of yore, ~1971. [Video]
- Part of a Kurdish song performed by Iranian folk singer Sima Bina. [1-minute video]
- Modern Persian music: "Gol-e Goldun," performed by Celeste Buckingham. [4-minute video]
- Funny tale about two stoned guys driving a Volvo, with the Lone Ranger in the back seat. [5-minute video]
(7) Application development strategies for exascale computing: In an interview with HPCwire, three DOE scientists dicuss the 2017 book, Exascale Scientific Applications: Scalability and Performance Portability, which has been two years in the making. The book is co-edited by Tjerk Straatsma, Scientific Computing Group leader at the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility; Katerina Antypas, Data Department Head at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center; and Timothy Williams, Deputy Director of Science at the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility.
(8) Bannon throws Kushner under the bus to save his former boss: He asserts that naive Jared went head-first toward the Russians (and disses Ivanka too). In his Vanity Fair interview, Bannon, having up to now dismissed the Russia probe as a deep-state ploy, says that Kushner was "taking meetings with Russians to get additional stuff. This tells you everything about Jared ... They were looking for the picture of Hillary Clinton taking the bag of cash from Putin. That's his maturity level." The Vanity Fair article contains many more juicy tidbits. Expect additional quotes from and tweets about it in the coming days.

2017/12/23 (Saturday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Calligraphic rendering of verse in a Sa'adi poem (1) Calligraphic rendering of a verse in a Sa'adi poem, particularly apt in view of the ongoing wildfire in our area. English translation is mine. [Calligrapher unknown]
Your fire burned me and thus rose the smoke of delight
You didn't come beside me to extinguish the flames
(2) The party that cut Amtrak funding twice, under Bush and Trump, sends its thoughts and prayers to the victims of the derailing near Seattle, just as it sends thoughts and prayers after every mass shooting, while proceeding to relax regulations on gun ownership. Trump's budget cut $630M from Amtrak's construction grants.
(3) Ventura's Via Ondulando neighborhood: While Santa Barbara and Montecito were spared by Thomas Fire, Ventura wasn't so lucky. Each fire symbol on this map marks one burned house. [From: Ventura County Star]
(4) A local Santa Barbara news anchor (Beth Farnsworth Ward) shows off one of the ways in which our community is paying tribute to the selfless firefighters who have been working hard for more than two weeks to protect us from #ThomasFire.
(5) Here is how UN members voted on the resolution to condemn US's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The resolution passed overwhelmingly, with all major US allies voting for it. US is perfectly within its rights to offer such a recognition, but it overstepped the bounds of diplomacy and international tact when it threatened to "take names" of countries that vote for the resolution. This is bullying, plain and simple! [Israel, USA, and the following 7 countries were the only 'no' votes: Guatemala, Honduras, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Togo]
(6) Seven brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Former US Marine and ISIS sympathizer arrested for planning a SF Pier-39 terror attack on Christmas Day.
- White Nationalists are upset that Trump and mainstream Republicans have discarded their policies.
- Alt-Right, upset by 'feminist agenda' and 'gay' Luke Skywalker in "Star Wars," is trying to hurt its ratings!
- Sexual harassment culture was not limited to the white-collar world, as Ford factory workers are indicate.
- Meanings of Persian-Jewish Surnames: List compiled by Ephraim Dardashti [PDF file]
- Cartoon of the day: Dessert, American style. [Image]
- Kurdish music from Syria: Accompanied by scenes from life in rural Kurdistan. [5-minute video]
(7) Quote of the day: "The price of the tax bill has to be measured not only in the loss American society will face in the increase in inequality, in the impact on public health, and the growth of the deficit, but also in the damage to political culture inflicted by the spectacle of one powerful man after another telling lies of various sorts. ... The lies told by powerful men—and the thanks heaped on the most powerful man of all—are the language of a dictatorship." ~ Masha Gessen, writing in The New Yorker
(8) Trump tweet: The United Nations Security Council just voted 15-0 in favor of additional Sanctions on North Korea. The World wants Peace, not Death!
My response: Yes, peace is what the world prefers! That's why the same 15 UN members voted along with 113 other nations to condemn the unilateral US decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
(9) Final thought for the day: Even Kim Jong Un won't say to his people "I'm starving you to pay for nukes." He says "I'm fighting to bring you greatness."

2017/12/21 (Thursday): Here are eight items of potential interest. [Movement of the day: #VoteThemOut]
Elephant goes shopping in this Georges Dambier photo, Paris, 1950s Drunk man rests after a night of celebrating the end of Prohibition, 1933 Private James (Jimi) Hendrix of the 101st Airborne Division, 1962 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Elephant goes shopping in this Georges Dambier photo, Paris, 1950s. [Center] Drunk man rests after a night of celebrating the end of Prohibition, 1933. [Right] Private James (Jimi) Hendrix of the 101st Airborne Division, 1962.
(2) Technology breakthrough: Israeli researchers develop a method of converting images from ordinary cameras into hyperspectral images that provide clues about material and other non-visual attributes of objects within the field of view.
(3) The next time you think a single vote makes no difference, consider this: A recount in Virginia has led to the Democratic candidate for state legislature winning over her opponent by one vote (pending certification).
(4) The Republicans are celebrating and patting each other on the back for: Giving billions in tax cuts to the rich; Taking health care from 13 million people; Opening an Alaskan wildlife refuge to drilling; Raising taxes on 100 million households [MAGA: Making Americans Greedy Again!]
(5) One dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- North Korea is hacking Bitcoin's infrastructure and poses an existential threat to the digital currency.
- In a deliberate act, car rams into pedestrians in Melbourne, Australia, injuring at least 19.
- Our local Santa Barbara headlines and covers tell the story of the devastating Thomas Fire.
- Thomas Fire 60% contained: No significant growth since yesterday. All Santa Barbara evacuation orders lifted.
- Magnitude-5.2 earthquake hits Iran's capital city, Tehran: No reports of casualties or damage yet.
- Trump considers the GOP tax bill a Christmas gift to Americans: But most people would regift it if they could!
- Trump's first pardon target was a racist. His second one is a financial fraudster. His kind of people!
- Senator Jeff Flake, who was called "Flakey" and many other names by Trump, looks at him with admiration.
- Happy winter solstice! Don't forget that as winter begins for us, summer is on its way down under.
- LeBron James lets his shoes do the talking! [Photo]
- Don't mess with the graying generation: Not that younger folks take assaults on their rights sitting down!
- "Here's how to get rid of Mueller—say that it will be great for the little guy and create jobs!" [Cartoon]
(6) Notes on the GOP tax bill, whichwas passed yesterday: A tax code has been put in place by and for the top 1%, with particular perks for real estate developers. Making America greedy again! Here is Senator Elizabeth Warren's take, in three tweets, on what she calls the GOP tax scam or tax heist, after it passed the US Senate. Graduate students were relieved, but they are not out of the woods yet. The Republican legislative agenda includes ending or curtailing other revenue streams on which graduate students depend. So, dodging taxation of their tuition-and-fees waivers in the final version of GOP's tax bill doesn't remove all their worries. They plan to stay vigilant. Employee bonuses announced by a few large companies are like thieves who clean out your house leaving you a tip on their way out.
(7) Tweet of the day: "Uh probably because I helped write the bill for the past year, have multiple provisions included, got multiple Senators on board over the last week and have worked on tax reform my entire time in Congress. But if you'd rather just see my skin color, pls feel free." ~ Senator Tim Scott, responding to a critic who accused him of being a 'black prop' during a White House ceremony
(8) Final thought for the day: I hope we won't need another Civil War to clear what's left of White Supremacists hostile to notions of human dignity and liberty.

2017/12/20 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Image representing the celebration of the Iranian festival of Yalda (1) Happy Yalda Night to everyone who celebrate this Iranian festival, when the gradual return to light, after the forces of darkness have achieved their maximum strength in the year's longest night, is celebrated. Tonight's celebration follows yesterday's last night of Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights.
(2) "Today, actors such as Russia are using information tools in an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of democracies": One of the statements in the just-released National Seurity Policy Report that suggest Trump may not have read the full document.
(3) The eternal flame at UCSB: Situated on a lawn, midway between the campus library and the Chemistry Building, the flame burns atop a 3-legged base holding a quote from Martin Luther King (shown in these photos) and two others from John F. and Robert F. Kennedy.
(4) Two of the most-hated men in America shown making fun of our former President: Recall that not too long ago, the father of one of these smiling buddies accused the father of the other one of being a criminal.
(5) Eight brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Twelve House Republicans voted against the GOP tax scam: 5 from NY, 4 from NJ, 2 from CA, 1 from NC.
- Whatever happened to filing your taxes on postcards? Pork and complexity were put back in to buy votes.
- CNN Arizona poll: John McCain is more popular with Democrats and independents than with Republicans.
- Water-repellent material can make windshield, sidewalk, and road ice things of the past.
- Japanese scientists develop a new polymer glass whose cracks heal when hand pressure is applied to it.
- Metalworkers in the ancient world hunted for meteorite iron for creating exotic weapons and artefacts.
- At about 110K, the number of UCSB freshman and transfer applications hit a new record for fall 2018.
- Cartoon caption of the day: CDC scientists asking the management: "Can we stil say 'moron'?"
(6) SUTA Festival and Reunion 2018: Rather than everyone gathering in one place, a distributed reunion is being planned for September 2018 by Sharif University of Technology Association (composed of graduates, students, faculty, and staff of SUT). Four major sites (Sweden, California, Washington, and Seattle) have already been announced for the gatherings and other major or satellite sites may be added. Once the sites are known, the exact dates will be announced.
(7) The inverted pendulum problem: Austrian researchers led by Ramin Hasani have developed an algorithm that exploits an established C. elegans neural circuit for the purpose of teaching a simulated worm, or wormbot, to balance a pole on its tail. The team used reinforcement learning, once the worm's neural circuitry was fully mapped out and described. Overall, the researchers discovered this training regimen works about as well as similar machine-learning approaches to the inverted pendulum problem, but with the key wrinkle that their algorithm is built from hacked wormbot brains.
(8) Having previously bought a $450M da Vinci painting, "corruption-fighting" Saudi Prince buys the world's most expensive mansion near Paris at $320M.
(9) [A family member asked me what Bitcoin was, so I provided the following explanation and link, which I share here with others who might have the same question.] Bitcoin is a digital or virtual currency. There are other examples, but Bitcoin is the most prominent and the most successful. Just like other currencies, you can exchange dollars or euros for Bitcoins and vice versa, at the prevailing exchange rate (currently $18,350 per Bitcoin), and you can have an account with Bitcoins in it, though not at conventional banks (yet). It is not issued or backed by any country and there are no assets to back it up (such as gold backing up some currencies). Increasingly, though, currencies are not backed up by anything other than the issuing country's reputation or economic strength. You don't worry that your dollars will become worthless someday, because the US is trusted internationally. Bitcoin is a sort of doomsday currency for people who don't trust the world's current economic order and think it is slated to collapse. Bitcoin exists only in cyberspace and no one person, group of people, or country controls it. Presumably, it will survive a nuclear war, say, as long as some of the millions of computers storing its distributed ledgers survive. This Web page provides more technical details.

2017/12/19 (Tuesday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Nazi youth gather at the University of Berlin to burn piles of 'un-German' books written by Jews and left-wing authors, 1933 Telephone engineer in London, 1925 Einstein and his therapist, not! (This is a widely-circulated myth; Einstein is talking politics with Cord Meyer, Jr., 1948) (1) History in pictures: [Left] Nazi youth gather at the University of Berlin to burn piles of "un-German" books written by Jews and left-wing authors, 1933. [Center] Telephone engineer in London, 1925. [Right] Einstein and his therapist, not! (This is a widely-circulated myth; Einstein is talking politics with Cord Meyer, Jr., 1948).
(2) Quote of the day: "Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So, go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you." ~ L. R. Knost
(3) Talk about insensitivity! Trump invited the NRA chief to the White House on the 5th anniversary of the Sandy Hook mass shooting. Perhaps he will mingle with Neo-Nazis on Holocaust Remembrance Day!
(4) Just-out book: Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win. The author, investigative journalist Luke Harding, was one of Fareed Zakaria's guests this morning. The book already has great reviews on Amazon. I have put it on my to-read list.
(5) Ten brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Sen. Bob Corker will save ~$1M on his taxes, according to GOP tax bill's final version. He is now a 'yes'!
- The derailed Washington State train may have been going at 70-80 MPH around a 30-MPH curve.
- It is rumored that Trump's lawyers are telling him that the Russia probe will end soon to control his rage.
- Trump plans to reverse Obama's inclusion of climate change in the list of national-security threats.
- Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner failed to disclose assets owned by 30 investment funds.
- With recent phone calls, bromance between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin continues to grow.
- China accuses Trump of harboring a 'Cold War metality' With his announced America-first security policy.
- Islamic State claims responsibility for church attack in Pakistan that killed 8 and wounded 42.
- Tour bus crash in Mexico leaves 11 dead, 20 injured: Riders included cruise-ship passengers.
- Finally, a near-normal sunset last night, after a couple of weeks of smoke- and ash-filled skies in Goleta.
(6) UCSB #ThomasFire clean-up plans: Having cleaned up soot and ash from my courtyard and two patios (~400 sq ft total = 0.01 acre), I realized, upon reading an e-mail message from UCSB's Facilities Management, what an enormous task it is to clean up our 1000-acre campus! Indoors clean-up of hallways and classrooms with be done by our custodial staff, while outdoors clean-up will be done by a mix of campus grounds crew (using drivable wet-vacs; no blowers or similar equipment) and outside contractors specializing in clean-up.
(7) I did a second round of ash clean-up today at my house: No more smoke and ash are coming our way today, but winds are expected to pick up tomorrow, potentially upsetting the current tranquility. Thomas Fire has now burned 272K acres and 1000+ structures, and it is 50% contained. However, the containment percentage is a bit misleading. Imagine, for a minute, a square-shaped fire, 50 miles on each side, which is spreading westward and northward only. In other words, two sides of the fire (100 miles in total) are contained and the fire is spreading from the other two sides (also 100 miles). The containment percentage in this case would be 50%, which presents little comfort to people in areas to the west and north of the fire.
(8) Signing off with two interesting questions about the Niagara Falls that resurface from time to time.
Question 1: Do the Niagara Falls ever completely freeze in winter? The short answer is "no." There is always some water flowing underneath the snow and ice. Complete blockage due to ice sheets is prevented by installed steel ice-cutters to deal with icebergs.
Question 2: Do the Niagara Falls ever completely dry up? The short answer is "yes." It happened once on March 30, 1848, for over 30 hours, when large chunks of ice blown to the northeastern edge of Lake Erie blocked its outlet. Meanwhile, unaware of the reason, people flocked to churches, because they thought the end of the world had come. It happened a second time for the American side of the falls in 1969, when the US Army Corps of Engineers turned off the American Falls to deal with massive amounts of rocks that had accumulated at the base as a result of rock-slides and threatened to some day turn the falls into rapids.

2017/12/18 (Monday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
John Lennon, NYC, 1974 Union Army brass band playing atop Lookout Mountain, with the Tennessee River in the background, 1864 Female IRA volunteer, Northern Ireland, 1970 (1) History in pictures: [Left] John Lennon in front of Lady Liberty, New York City, 1974. [Center] Union Army brass band playing atop Lookout Mountain, with the Tennessee River in the background, 1864. [Right] Female IRA volunteer, Northern Ireland, 1970.
(2) Normally, I'd empathize with calling the media's tendency to sensationalize "fake news," but not if done by "The King of Falsehoods."
(3) The three big lies about Trump's tax plan: Robert Reich debunks the untruths. (1) American corporations are not competitive because they pay the highest tax rate in the world. (2) With their taxes cut, the rich will invest and create jobs. (3) Small businesses will be given an incentive to invest and create more jobs.
(4) Jared Kushner humiliated on live TV: He is told to his face that a bunch of businessmen and attorneys, with no pertinent knowledge of the Middle East, cannot solve the complex Israeli-Palestinian problem.
[Kushner says, with a straight face, that maybe it's good that a bankruptcy lawyer is part of his team, because no such person has ever worked on the problem! Yes, Mideast peace was missing a bankruptcy lawyer!]
(5) Eight brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Train derailment south of Seattle, WA, causes deaths and injuries: On-going emergency in the area.
- Decency police on skis is patrolling Iran's ski slopes to check on women's hijab and behavior.
- Using Google artificial intelligence tools, NASA discovers two new planets.
- Coordinated attacks on Mueller intensify: Fox News host calls FBI a "criminal cabal"!
- Racism doesn't hurt only the victims but also its perpetrators. [NPR report]
- Acronym of the day: MAGA: Mueller Ain't Going Away.
- The seven banned words and phrases at CDC create resistance! [Meme design by Debs Cane]
- Cartoon of the day: Actually, I do have several pets ... [Image]
(6) Trump's frantic fight for self-preservation: "Around 5:30 each morning, President Trump wakes and tunes into the television in the White House's master bedroom. He flips to CNN for news, moves to 'Fox & Friends' for comfort and messaging ideas, and sometimes watches MSNBC's 'Morning Joe' because, friends suspect, it fires him up for the day."
(7) Concert attendance plans cancelled: A friend and I were planning to see the Los Angeles Master Chorale at Disney Concert Hall tonight. Uncertainties brought about by #ThomasFire, including sporadic road closures between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, prompted us to cancel. The program was the 37th annual sing-along rendition of George Frideric Handel's "Messiah," arguably the greatest choral composition of all time. LAMC is world-renowned for its wonderful interpretations of great music. The celestial voices heard on the soundtrack of the latest installment of the "Star Wars" film series, now in theaters, are provided by LAMC. The singers recorded their vocal tracks live with legendary composer John Williams and his orchestra at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City in April 2017. [LAMC flashmob from exactly seven year ago, December 18, 2010]
(8) Fire fatigue: It's two weeks since #ThomasFire began in Ventura, CA. After the initial quick spread toward Santa Barbara, it slowed down. Firefighters managed to divert it away from populated areas through back-burning, an operation that saved many homes but killed one firefighter. Winds picked up on Saturday, expanding the fire into areas that were previously thought to be safe. With the new flare-ups, smoke and ash plumes are back and air quality, which was improving, has become unhealthy again. Reports since yesterday indicate calming down of the winds and improved containment to 40%. Having destroyed 1000+ structures and burned 270,000 acres (~420 sq. miles), Thomas Fire is now the third largest in California history, spanning about 60 miles east-west and 40 miles north-south. Hoping for the holiday cheer to return to our area soon! [Here's a Detailed map of mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders in Santa Barbara, as of yesterday.]

2017/12/17 (Sunday): Here are two short book reviews, as I try to clear my backlog of reviews.
Cover image of the book 'Hope,' by Berry and DeJesus (1) Book review: Berry, Amanda and Gina DeJesus (with Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan), Hope: A Memoir of Survival in Cleveland, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Jorjeana Maric, Marisol Ramirez, and Arthur Morey, Penguin Audio, 2015.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This book is the story of two girls, the authors, who were abducted and detained at the Cleveland home of a local school-bus driver for over a decade (2002-2013), until one of them managed to escape and call 911 for help. Weaved into the girls' narrative about their horrifying days in chains, repeated rapes, and psychological abuse is the view from outside, as family members, journalists, and law enforcement searched for clues about their whereabouts.
The writing, by Pulitzer-Prize-winning Washington Post reporters Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan, is crisp and captivating, shedding light not only on the girls' harrowing experience and media headlines, but also on the life of the criminal school bus driver, who committed suicide in jail, one month into his life sentence.
The book has a blemish that I learned about from another published review. Emily Claire, a reviewer on Amazon, wonders why the third girl, Michelle Knight, is barely mentioned in this memoir, even though she was held the longest, became pregnant five times as a result of violent rapes, had each fetus beaten out of her body, and was in such poor health at the end that she needed hospitalization. "Just one miscarriage was referred to, and only in an oblique and vague manner. ... And where was Michelle when Amanda and Gina were invited to meet the president and speak at the White House?" These are interesting questions that should be answered by the authors.
Researching the story of Michelle Knight, I learned that she has written her own book, Finding Me: A Decade of Darkness, a Life Reclaimed, with co-author Michelle Burford (2014). A 2015 TV movie, entitled "Cleveland Abductions," was made by Lifetime based on Knight's memoir.
Cover image for Elizabeth Gilbert's 'Big Magic' (2) Book review: Gilbert, Elizabeth, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, unabridged audiobook on 4 CDs, read by the author, Penguin Audio, 2015.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Gilbert, through her hugely successful book, Eat, Pray, Love, and its sequel, Committed, has provided inspiration to many. This book does the same by discussing the nature of inspiration and the habits we need to develop in order to live most creatively. A central theme in the book is that ideas are living things that go around looking for human partners. They should be considered gifts from the universe. If you don't act on an idea, it will move on and may find someone else to partner with.
Gilbert cites an example from her own life: An idea for a novel taking place in the amazon; an adventure/love-story combination. Events in Gilbert's life forced her to shelf the idea. When she returned to it a few years later, she saw that she had no passion to write about it, as if the idea had evaporated. After Gilbert developed a close friendship with author Ann Patchett, she discovered that Patchett was writing a very similar story. That an ignored idea moves to someone else, though poetic and allegorical, is difficult to accept, but losing one's passion for what once seemed a brilliant endeavor is understandable and familiar.
According to Gilbert, we each have "strange jewels" within us that we can uncover by following a number of straightforward steps, in order to live creatively and realize our dream project, be it writing a book, creating art, or addressing work-related challenges. At times, Gilbert comes across as preachy and over-generalizing. For example, even though creativity in science and engineering does have some of the same features as in arts and literature, not everything in Gilbert's recipe is equally applicable to such dissimilar endeavors.
Overlapping the ideas in Gilbert's book are notions in another book that I happen to be perusing at the time of this writing. The book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain, stresses the importance of quiet contemplation, something that introverts do naturally but that everyone can benefit from it. According to Cain, it is unfortunate that introversion, like shyness (which isn't the same thing), is viewed as a negative trait in many Western societies trapped in a "culture of personality," which places too much value on extroversion.
I highly recommend perusing Gilbert's book. The few shortcomings are more than compensated for by the exquisite writing and the motivational effect of learning about how Gilbert and other subjects cited as examples in the book overcame doubts and creativity-killing fears on the path to living a creative life.

2017/12/16 (Saturday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Eleanor Roosevelt with the .22 Smith and Wesson she often carried in lieu of secret service protection Cornell Capa's photo of traffic jam in New York City on Memorial-Day weekend, 1949 Carrie Fisher watches her mom on stage at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas, 1963 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Eleanor Roosevelt with the .22 Smith and Wesson she often carried in lieu of secret service protection. [Center] Cornell Capa's photo of traffic jam in New York City on Memorial-Day weekend, 1949. [Right] Carrie Fisher watches her mom on stage at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas, 1963.
(2) I left Iran more than three decades ago. It seems that since then "Irani" and 2-letter names, such as "Fa," have become very common as last names! [Referring to made-up names on Facebook and other social media]
(3) The world's most-famous nerdy car: When the bare-bones 2CV first appeared, it surprised the world by being out of fashion with its added-on headlights, and by its low price of $650 in the late 1940s. Only the Citroen name stopped the car from being thought a joke.
(4) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Trump is severely compromised and a threat to US national security: Immediate removal is called for.
- White House officials say that Trump's daily intelligence update is structured to avoid upsetting him.
- CDC forbidden from using "diversity," "evidence/science-based," "fetus," "transgender," and other terms.
- Eight women doctors are running for elected office in DC, in part to fix a broken healthcare system.
- Ed Shiran's duet with Andrea Bocelli: "Perfect Symphony" [6-minute video]
- Cartoon of the day: The cartoon drawn after travel ban was blocked by the courts is updated for Alabama.
(5) A victory for grad students, but still a loss for the US as a whole: Last-minute compromise on the GOP tax bill eliminates the taxation of graduate-student tuition/fees waivers and allows student-loan deductions.
(6) Fraud extends beyond Trump and his cabinet: FCC being investigated for publishing 2M fake comments supporting the end of net neutrality, using identities of real Americans, including dead actress Patty Duke.
(7) Thomas Fire updates: Early this morning, the wind picked up in Montecito, SB County, extending the fire southward. New evacuation orders were issued for the area between routes 192 and 101. Voluntary evacuation zone now extends into the city of Santa Barbara. Edison advisory indicated that power outages were possible in view of the fire's expansion. These two photos, looking east and southeast from my home in Goleta, show that smoke and ash clouds have spared our immediate area so far, being carried south by offshore winds, but they seem to be closing in. Highway 101 re-opened mid-day, but residents were advised not to use it, except for evacuations. This fire map superimposed on Los Angeles gives you an idea of its extent. People in fire zones should keep their gas tank full; gas stations may close for safety and can't work during a power outage. In late afternoon, I took these photos showing blue skies coexisting with smoke/ash plumes in Goleta, CA.

2017/12/15 (Friday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
US President Lyndon Johnson listens to a tape sent to him by Captain Charles Robb (his son in law), from Vietnam during the height of the war, 1968 David Isom, 19, broke the color line in a segregated pool in Florida on June 8, 1958, which resulted in officials closing the facility Train wreck at Montparnasse, Paris, 1895 (1) History in pictures: [Left] US President Lyndon Johnson listens to a tape sent to him by Captain Charles Robb (his son in law), from Vietnam during the height of the war, 1968. [Center] David Isom, 19, broke the color line in a segregated pool in Florida on June 8, 1958, which resulted in officials shutting down the facility. [Right] Train wreck at Montparnasse, Paris, 1895.
(2) Other than Netanyahu, Putin seems to be the only world leader who praises Trump. So, Trump calls to thank Putin for his praise; as if Russia meddling never occurred!
(3) A theory about Trump's presidency: This may be dismissed as yet another conspiracy theory, but hear me out. What if Trump decided to run for US presidency in order to earn billions of dollars from increased business profits and tax cuts? Then, when he saw that his chances of being elected were slim to none, he recruited Russian oligarchs, by promising them something in return for helping him get elected. Viewed in this way, his presidency is nothing more than a 4-year deal that earns him lots of money. The increased profits are already materializing. The tax cuts are on the verge of passing the Congress. There is just one wrinkle that he did not foresee: His business practices and his mob ties are being exposed, which may, if pursued by Mueller (assuming he is not fired), actually bankrupt him instead of making him richer.
(4) Eight brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Some Republicans are saying, "Enough is enough; Trump must resign." Why did it take them 2+ years?
- The black superwomen of Alabama saved the Republican Party from itself, while also helping America.
- Bernie Sanders: "The Republican tax bill is a hole-in-one for Trump, who will benefit from tax breaks ... "
- Anti-Semitism rears its ugly head again: This time in the form of swastikas painted at a CA synagogue.
- Three Baha'i women arrested by Revolutionay Guards in the Iranian city of Kermanshah.
- Humor: White House safety officials have reportedly placed a large order for fire-proof pants!
- Iranian Ayatollah: Watching male wrestling can make women randy. [Source: IranWire]
- Cartoon of the day: Iranian athletes don't shake hands with women who hang medals around their necks.
(5) Google leads in the race to dominate artificial intelligence: Tech companies are walking a tightrope between divulging information about their AI research programs to attract talent and staying tight-lipped to protect their trade secrets.
(6) UC San Diego researchers develop an automated tool to determine whether a given Web site has suffered a data breach: The tool is a bot that creates accounts, each with a different e-mail address, on various candidate sites, each e-mail address always having the same password. They found that nearly 1% of the sites tested suffered a data breach during the 18-month study.
(7) Iran is stuck in the Middle Ages: Iranian athletes are told not to shake hands with women, in addition to losing intentionally to an opponent if such a loss would mean that they won't face an Israeli opponent later on.
(8) Thomas fire updates: After several days of my courtyard being covered in soot and ash, yesterday I put on a breathing mask, swept the debris, and hosed off the tiles. Ashes may be gone, but smoke advisory map for our area (update of yesterday) shows we are not out of the woods yet. One firefighter, 32-year-old Cory Iverson of San Diego, lost his life battling the fire. Today, red-flag warnings were issued for SoCal due to dry conditions and wind gusts. The worst air quality is expected in Carpinteria and Ojai; next worst will be in Santa Barbara and Goleta, all the way up to Solvang. I have just learned about a way of gauging air quality in terms of extra cigarettes per day (CPD), which makes it more readily understood by everyone. Berkeley Earth indicates that our air pollution cigarettes-equivalent index has gone up from the pre-fire baseline of 1.5 CPD to 6.5 CPD, that is, breathing our air in Goleta without a mask is like smoking 5 extra cigarettes per day. The 6.5 reading corresponds to a "severely polluted" day in Beijing.

2017/12/14 (Thursday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Colorized photo of Amelia Earhart standing in front of her single-prop plane in Burbank, California, 1932 The Last Kiss, a memorable photo from World War II A Japanese-American business owner displays a banner the day after the 1942 Pearl Harbor attack, just before his internment (1) History in pictures: [Left] Colorized photo of Amelia Earhart standing in front of her single-prop plane in Burbank, California, 1932. [Center] The Last Kiss, a memorable photo from World War II. [Right] A Japanese-American business owner displays a banner the day after the Pearl Harbor attack, just before his internment.
(2) Quote of the day: "A president who would all but call Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand a whore is not fit to clean the toilets in the Barack Obama Presidential Library or to shine the shoes of George W. Bush." ~ USA Today
(3) Why Jewish composers wrote many of the classic Christmas songs: [Psst! Don't tell Trump about this, or he might start hating Christmas!] "The overwhelming impulse among the children of Jewish immigrants was to assimilate, and the first step in becoming 'American' nearly always involved changing their names. Israel Baline became Irving Berlin, Jacob and Israel Gershowitz became George and Ira Gershwin, Hyman Arluck became Harold Arlen, Asa Yoelson became Al Jolson and Isidore Hochberg became 'Yip' Harburg. Most not only left their names behind, but all traces of their Jewishness as well."
(4) The Chase Palm Park antique carousel is gone: Its new home is reportedly a museum somewhere. We will miss it! No word yet about what will become of the now-empty building.
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- France awards research grants to US climate-change scientists in rebuke to US withdrawal from Paris accord.
- Photos and videos are emerging that show Trump with his women accusers he says he never met.
- Top Google searches for 2017: iPhone 8, Bitcoin, and sex scandals. [Source: Newsweek]
- Merriam-Webster's Word of 2017: "Feminism" (It beat out "Complicit")
- Gloria Steinem opines on women having gained their voices as a result of the #MeToo movement.
- Roy Moore, on not conceding: "We know that God is in control." J. K. Rowling: "You know she is black, right?"
(6) Sean Spicer is writing a book: I hope this generator of alternative facts faces a boycott, even if he may have decided that telling the truth is now more profitable.
(7) Trump has mobilized black voters, particularly black women (98% of whom voted for Doug Jones), and there is no going back. Alabama is the start of the realization that they've got a lot to lose with Trump and his likes in power! How's your African-American doing, Donald? [Chart]
(8) Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights: I am thrilled to learn and report that Dr. Nayereh Tohidi (Professor, Cal State Northridge) has been honored with the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights from an international youth organization.
(9) Signing off with additional historical photos: Chicago in 1941, through the lens of John Vachon.

2017/12/13 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
A man standing in the lumberyard of Seattle Cedar Lumber Manufacturing, 1939 Abe Lincoln's Hearse, 1865 Women boxing on a roof, 1930s (1) History in pictures: [Left] A man standing in the lumberyard of Seattle Cedar Lumber Manufacturing, 1939 (Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt). [Center] Abe Lincoln's Hearse, 1865. [Right] Women boxing on a roof, 1930s.
(2) Happy Hanukkah to all who celebrate this Jewish festival of lights, which began last night [Photos]
(3) Cartoon caption of the day: One man to another: "Thank goodness we finally have an Administration that speaks for those of us who don't care what happens to the planet in a hundred years because we'll be dead." [The New Yorker cartoon by David Sipress]
(4) Map of #ThomasFire boundaries, as of Monday night. [Source: CalFire,] The fire's progress has been significantly slowed down by the absence of high winds, back-burns (intentionally-set fires to remove fuel from the fire's path), and areas burned in previous years, which have limited supply of fuel.
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee dead at 65: It's an eerie feeling when people younger than you start to die!
- I think Donald Trump has picked the wrong fight this time. Go Senator Gillibrand!
- One of the back-burns, intentionally set to protect population centers from the advancing #ThomasFire.
- View of #ThomasFire last night, from Santa Barbara's waterfront. [Photo]
- Bitcoin vending machine: About Can$23K buys you one. [Photo]
- Cartoon of the day: "I see you serving a six-year term, but not in the Senate." [Image]
(6) Trump tweets yet another falsehood: But his base will never read the correction included, along with the tweet, in this image. They just don't read anything anti-Trump or, if they do by chance, they dismiss it as "Fake News," liberals, or socialists trying to stain their beloved leader.
(7) I got this book-shaped light as a present a couple of years ago. It has a rechargeable battery and LED lights, with multiple, selectable colors. After lighting candles during the first Thomas-Fire-caused blackout, I remembered that I can use this light, which is both brighter and cleaner.
(8) Trump supporters always say that he likes to punch back when attacked: Well, it seems that his foes are punching back even harder. He was punched multiple times for his attack on Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. He got bloodied in Alabama. Women who accused him of sexual misconduct are now emboldened to punch back at a powerful bully. [Melania: How is your anti-bullying campaign going?]
(9) My walk of yesterday afternoon in a ghost-town: Having been confined to my home for a few days, I decided to put on my breathing mask and brave Santa Barbara's waterfront area. Hardly anyone was on the beach or on Stearns Wharf. Boats were pretty much absent on the eerily calm water. Normally-full parking lots contained only a few cars. The birds, though, went about their business as usual, seemingly oblivious to the unhealthy air. Businesses in the area must be hurting: hardly a customer in the gift shops or restaurants on the Wharf or nearby streets. [Photos]

2017/12/12 (Tuesday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Thousands await the arrival of The Beatles, 1960s Diver examines an old sunken plane Aftermath of B-25 airplane crash into Empire State Building on July 28, 1945 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Thousands await the arrival of The Beatles, 1960s. [Center] Diver examines an old sunken plane. [Right] Aftermath of B-25 airplane crash into Empire State Building on July 28, 1945.
(2) Sharing part of my reply to a friend, who is considering moving to California but is having second thoughts in view of recent wildfires: Fires are actually not that bad, relatively speaking. The number of deaths from fires (and even earthquakes) is much smaller than other natural disasters, such as storms, tornadoes, and floods. The danger is also mostly avoidable if you choose to live in fire-safe areas (there is a correlation between the natural beauty of your surroundings and fire danger, so you have a trade-off to make).
(3) Futuristic eco-resort in the Philippines: Nautilus is a pioneering eco-tourism complex, consisting of 12 hotels arranged in the form of sea snails and powered by renewable energy derived from waves, tides, and ocean heat. It aims to preserve the coast's and islands' natural beauty. Everything in the resort is built from previously used material and guests will go to and fro on electric boats.
(4) The Louvre Abu Dhabi: Designed by architect Jean Nouvel, the museum's centerpiece is a silvery dome that appears to float over the entire complex. Weighing 7500 tons (same as the Eiffel Tower), it is held up by four hidden pillars. Perforations in the roof create intricate patterns of lighting inside.
(5) Get ready for smartphone computers: Since both Microsoft and Qualcomm have announced a new kind of laptop powered by a smartphone processor running a desktop operating system (presumably as a power-saving method to extend battery life), emergence of smartphone models that replace laptops is inevitable.
(6) Trump mocks the "Resistance" movement in his Florida rally: DJT's history shows that he mocks anything that scares him, which is good! In this case, he is mocking a majority of Americans who oppose him. If you are not with him, you're dumb and don't have any rights!
(7) Causes of SoCal wildfires: At this point, fire officials are not devoting any resources to determining how the multiple fires began, but once all fires have been contained, they will investigate. Fire departments now have advanced methods and technologies to determine the exact point where a particular fire started, to within 10 square meters. They comb the small candidate starting points for clues, such as matches, lighting fluids, and so on. If the starting points of multiple fires line up along roads, there is a good chance that they were man-made. There are other indicators that are used to determine whether arson was involved. Fascinating!

2017/12/11 (Monday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
A pair of Cambridge undergraduates, 1926 Ku Klux Klan on a ferris wheel, 1925 Wooden bathing suits that were supposed to make you more buoyant, 1929 (1) History in pictures: [Left] A pair of Cambridge undergraduates, 1926. [Center] Ku Klux Klan on a ferris wheel, 1925. [Right] Wooden bathing suits that were supposed to make you more buoyant, 1929.
(2) A Trump political support group sends 12-year-old Millie March to campaign for and interview Roy Moore in Alabama. [No word yet on whether Moore asked the girl out.]
(3) NASA's Kepler Space Telescope has been searching for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence: On Wednesday December 14, a breakthrough, achieved with help from Google's AI, will be announced at a news conference.
(4) News and announcements about the spreading Thomas Fire, now moving in the Santa Barbara County:
- Video recorded from KEYT News last night: The fire is already the 5th largest in California history.
- Stats: Acres burned 230,000; Containment 10%; Structures destroyed 840; Structures threatened 18,000.
- No rain in sight: Warm, dry weather continues at least for another week. Fire control prospects not so good.
- Newsweek magazine's coverage of the still active Thomas Fire and other (mostly contained) California fires.
- First piece of good news, after a week: The sun is finally shining through, although not quite at full force yet.
- Ventura County Sheriff's Public Affairs Office has issued warnings about charity and home repair scams.
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Why can't sexually abusive men say they're sorry? From show business to politics, real apologies are rare.
- NASA is surveying California fires with high-altitude ER-2 aircraft.
- Developing story about possible explosions in NYC subway, believed to have resulted from a terror attack.
- German intelligence reveals that China has been spying on 10,000 Germans via LinkedIn.
- Wonderful rendition of "Carol of the Bells" by the American rock band Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
- Beautiful song and message: "I Dream of a World Where Everyone Would Live in Peace" [6-minute video]
(6) Data science of creating the ultimate Christmas song: Forensic musicologist Joe Bennett, PhD, songwriter Steve Anderson, and singer/songwriter Harriet Green analyzed 78 different widely broadcast Christmas songs with respect to parameters in their music (style, tempo, use of bells, etc.) and lyrics (word usage and frequency), along with data about how happy they made people feel, to create the song "Love's Not Just for Christmas." [4-minute video]
(7) Math puzzle: Consider all the 9-digit numbers that can be formed by using each of the digits 1 through 9 exactly once. How many such numbers are there? How many of them are even? How many are divisible by 3? Divisible by 4? Divisible by 5? Divisible by 6?

2017/12/10 (Sunday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Logo for World Human Rights Day (1) Happy World Human Rights Day! Today, the UN kicks off a year-long campaign to honor the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which next year marks its 70th anniversary.
(2) Trump's long-time aide Hope Hicks focus of attention in Russia probe: She had been warned by the FBI that certain Russians contacting the Trump transition team weren't who they pretended to be.
(3) Thirteen mathematical problems/puzzles: A couple of days ago, I posted a review of the book Problems for Mathematicians, Young and Old, by Paul R. Halmos. My review, which is also posted on GoodReads, contains a sample of 13 mathematical problems/puzzles from the book that you may find interesting. All 13 can be solved by anyone trained in basic math and mathematical reasoning.
(4) Important warning about clean-up after fires: When houses burn, asbestos fibers from building materials may become airborne, creating a potentially hazardous situation. Cleanup can make conditions worse if not done properly. Handling materials that contain asbestos can be hazardous to your health. Care should be exercised in cleaning the debris and ash; leafblowers should not be used. [From: Santa Barbara County e-mail]
(5) News and announcements about the spreading Thomas Fire, now moving in the Santa Barbara County:
- Blackouts and air quality issues continue: We had power outage ~1:30-5:00 AM and brief outages afterwards.
- A layer of ash covered my courtyard yesterday, as the sun struggled to penetrate the haze in the sky.
- Evacuation orders have now moved further north to Montecito, a mere 5 miles to the east of Santa Barbara.
- Fire map as of early this afternoon: Light olive-green marks the mandatory evacuation areas.
- The fire's live map in Santa Barbara County shows it approaching Montecito.
- UCSB abandons its plan to hold final exams as scheduled this week. Instead, they will begin on January 8.
- UCSB's winter 2018 quarter will begin one week later on Tuesday 1/16 and will be shortened by one week.
- Santa Barbara School District declares all area schools closed until January 2, 2018.
- Authorities indicate that to filter out asbestos, one needs P-100 or N-100 masks. The N-95 masks won't do.
- KEYT is broadcasting live. Apparently, besides power & air quality, our water supply has been affected.
(6) I am sorry that the Palestinians chose to fall into Trump's trap: Violent protests are cutting into their credibility. Surely there are quite a few sophisticated political analysts among the Palestinians. Trump's announcement was an act of desperation and is viewed as such worldwide. He feels threatened by the Russia investigation and there is now a reasonable chance that his tax-cuts-for-the-rich bill will fail when it is brought back to the Senate after reconciliation with the House version. One Republican Senator already voted against it and another (Collins) is leaning toward reversing her vote the next time. It takes just one more 'no' vote to kill the bill. Tillerson is on his way out and Kushner will likely be forced out, both due to his poor judgment and the fact that after one year, he has not yet obtained the required security clearance. The Palestinians could have condemned the US and stated that they no longer consider it an impartial mediator for the peace process. Europeans are likely to step in to fill the void. Then, they could have negotiated from a position of strength. As things now stand, they are playing into Trump's hand.
(7) Understanding the Thomas Fire: In addition to dry weather and high winds, another reason for the fire's destructiveness was the fact that some of the areas affected had not burned for decades (since 1964 in some cases). So, even though some burned areas looked green from this season's rains, the greenery masked a lot of dead fuel for the fire underneath.

2017/12/09 (Saturday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Street in Istanbul, Turkey, 1898 Settling with the cabbie, New York City, 1895 San Francisco's Chinatown, 1944 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Street in Istanbul, Turkey, 1898. [Center] Settling with the cabbie, New York City, 1895. [Right] San Francisco's Chinatown, 1944.
(2) Trump has approached the Israeli-Palestinian conflict like a bull in a china shop: Not one country, other than Israel, agrees with his decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.
(3) If Obama had cured cancer, we'd be having tweets about the greatness of cancer and why it should be brought back. The Trump administration is undoing even Michelle Obama's nutrition guidelines for schools.
(4) Some fire-related news and images from Southern California (Ventura County's Thomas Fire and others):
- View from Turnpike Road in Santa Barbara, before and after Thomas Fire. [Photos]
- Sunlight barely makes it through a dense cover of smoke and ash in Goleta and Santa Barbara. [Photo]
- N95 masks that were distributed today to our community in view of the very unhealthy air quality. [Photo]
- A few satellite images of Ventura County's Thomas Fire and other SoCal fires nearby.
- San Diego's Lilac Fire makes California's already record-breaking year for wildfires even worse.
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- WikiLeaks e-mail provided Trump campaign with pointer to documents that had been released.
- Trump reiterates his support for Roy Moore's Senate run at Florida rally, across the border from Alabama.
- Big oops! Someone forgot to insert the actual "Splash Heading" before sending the paper to the printer.
- Melissa McCarthy and James Franco in costumes on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" (Mccarthy guest-hosted).
- Gravity is a hoax (comedy skit): Melissa McCarthy and Jennifer Aniston fight over gravity as fake news.
- The Borowitz Report [humor]: "Trump's slurred speech tied to low battery in Putin's remote."
(6) A startling AI achievement: Google's AlphaGo Zero algorithm managed to defeat the previously strongest chess-playing program only four hours after it was taught the rules of the game and told to learn strategy by playing simulation games against itself.
(7) United States and an Imploding Middle East: Where to from Here? This is the title of a lecture by Dr. Mehrzad Borujerdi (Professor of Political Science, Syracuse U.), delivered at CSUN on November 21, 2017, and video-recorded in full. He presents a capsule review, in mostly pessimistic terms, of the current situation in the region that includes the world's 10 most fragile states (where the central government wields little power). The review is very useful for those who do not know much about the region, its geography, and its political forces, but even those who follow the region's developments closely, will find something in terms of hard facts and data cited by the speaker from the 2016 edition of Arab Human Development Report (published by UNDP, UN's Development Program). Arab countries have 5% of the world's population, but account for 45% of terror attacks worldwide, 57% of refugees, 68% of battle-related deaths, and 47% of internally displaced people. World's top 5 military spenders as a fraction of GDP are Saudi Arabia and 4 relatively small Arab countries. Some 78% of Arabs live in hardship (poverty).

Cover image for 'Problems for Mathematicians, Young and Old'

2017/12/08 (Friday): Book review: Halmos, Paul R., Problems for Mathematicians, Young and Old, Mathematical Association of America, 1991.
[My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Paul Richard Halmos [1916-2006] was a Hungarian-Jewish-born American mathematician who made fundamental contributions to mathematical logic, probability theory, statistics, operator theory, ergodic theory, and functional analysis (in particular, Hilbert spaces). He was also recognized as a great expositor of mathematics and an advocate for education and effective teaching.
In this 318-page gem of a book, Halmos has collected a wide array of problems (126 pp.), complete with hints (18 pp.) and solutions (174 pp.). The best way to review this book is to present a sample problem from each of its 14 chapters. I will exclude chapter 13, "Mappings," because it contains no problem that can be solved without resorting to advance math; the 13 problems that follow can be solved by anyone trained in basic math and mathematical reasoning.
Chapter 1, "Combinatorics" (Tennis tournament): Consider an elimination tennis tournament with 1025 participants. In each round, the remaining players are paired, and if the number of players is odd, one of them gets a bye. For example, in the first round, 512 matches are played and one player gets a bye. How many matches must be played to determine a champion?
Chapter 2, "Calculus" (Railroad track): We have a perfectly straight and flat railroad track of length 2640 m. Suppose we add 1 m of rail to the middle of the track, while keeping its endpoints fixed. The additional length causes the track to bulge upward in the shape of a circular arc. How far will the middle of the track rise above the original level?
Chapter 3, "Puzzles" (Factorials ending in 0s): The first factorial that ends in 0 is 5! = 120. To have the factorial end in two 0s, we need to go to 10! = 3,628,800. How many 0s does 1,000,000! have at its end?
Chapter 4, "Numbers" (Irrational punch): We have a weird paper punch such that when its center is placed at a point on paper, all points whose distance to that center are irrational numbers are removed. How many punchings are needed to remove every point?
Chapter 5, "Geometry" (Shortest road to connect 4 houses): Four houses are located on flat land at the corners of a square of side length 1 km. What is the shortest road system that would enable each inhabitant to visit the other three?
Chapter 6, "Tilings" (Tiling a checkerboard with dominoes): You have a standard 8-by-8 checkerboard from which 2 squares at opposite corners have been removed. Given 31 dominoes, each of which covers exactly 2 adjacent squares on the board, can you cover all 62 squares of the board with the 31 dominoes?
Chapter 7, "Probability" (Fair and loaded dice): A fair or honest die is one for which the probability of each of the outcomes 1 through 6 is 1/6. Assume we can load a die as we please, for example, to have the probabilities 3/8, 1/4, 1/8. 1/9, 1/12, 1/18 for outcomes 1 through 6 (these probabilities add up to 1). Is there a way to load two different dice so that when they are rolled together the sum outcomes 2 through 12 each occurs with the same probability 1/11?
Chapter 8, "Analysis" (Infinite mathematical expressions): What is the value of the following expression in the limit when there are an infinite number of sqrt(2) terms? sqrt(2) ^ (sqrt(2) ^ (sqrt(2) ^ (sqrt(2) ^ ... )))]
Chapter 9, "Matrices" (Square-root of a matrix): The square-root of a matrix A is a matrix B such that A = B^2. Not every matrix has a square-root. Does a 3-by-3 matrix with all entries 0, except the top right element which is 1, have a square-root? How about a matrix of all-0s, with its only 1 entry in the middle of its top row?
Chapter 10, "Algebra" (Polynomial arithmetic): If a polynomial in x vanishes when x = 2, then it must be divisible by x – 2. Is it also true that if a polynomial in x and y vanishes when x = y, then it is divisible by x – y?
Chapter 11, "Sets" (Lines on a plane): Obviously, an infinite set of lines are needed to cover a plane. Can the set of such lines whose union is the plane be countably infinite?
Chapter 12, "Spaces" (Map coloring): It has been known for sure since 1976 (and suspected long before then) that any planar map of countries can be colored using no more than 4 colors, so that no two countries sharing a border are of the same color. Show that if the countries do not have arbitrary borders but, instead, are formed by a set of intersecting circles, then 2 colors would suffice.
Chapter 14, "Measures" (Fair sharing of a cake among 3 people): When two people want to divide a cake so that they are both convinced of the division's fairness, the "you cut, I choose" scheme is used. One person cuts the cake into two pieces that s/he thinks is a fair division and the other person picks one of the pieces. Can we extend this scheme to 3 people? This is a much harder problem than fair division into 2 pieces. There exists a scheme that appears fair, but does not work upon further reflection.

2017/12/07 (Thursday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Four scenes from Ventura County's Thomas Fire Latest status of Ventura County's Thomas Fire (1) Scenes from Ventura County's Thomas Fire: The fire has expanded in multiple directions and is burning intensely, with ~5% containment. [Source of photos: LA Times]
- The live map below, captured before noon, shows the latest status for Thomas Fire: It has just crossed the Santa Barbara County line, into Carpinteria. Ojai seems to be surrounded by fire.
- US 101 was closed in both directions this morning, but has since reopened.
- Area schools are closed, as is SB City College. UCSB remains open, but has cancelled today's and tomorrow's classes. Next week's finals will be held, as scheduled.
- UCSB's Recreation Center is being used by the Red Cross to house fire evacuees (they can park in Lot 16).
- La Conchita, the coastal community devastated by deadly mudslides in 2005, is threatened to be wiped out by fire.
- It's raining ash all over Ojai Valley, as the city of Ojai is threatened by Thomas Fire. [according to KEYT]
- If you can't watch KEYT Channel 3 on TV, they are live-streaming evacuation and other info for Santa Barbara and Ventura residents.
(2) Happy 19th anniversary to ISS: Nineteen years ago today, the first two International Space Station modules (Unity and Zarya) were joined together, beginning the assembly of the orbital lab.
(3) Signs of discord in the Trump administration: President Trump's announcement that the US recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel had some people scratching their heads due to the absence of Rex Tillerson and the prominent display of Mike Pence, rather than Jared Kushner, standing behind Trump.
(4) Eight brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- FBI chief defends the agency against Trump's assertion that it's in tatters.
- Trump's war on a made-up assault against Christmas. No one is trying to eliminate Christmas!
- A tiny $289B error crept into GOP's tax bill, because they didn't allow time for even a most-basic review.
- Two new fires in northerh SB County (Santa Ynez and Santa Maria) add to the area's fire woes.
- Eight graduate students protesting the GOP tax plan arrested outside Paul Ryan's office.
- The Borowitz Report [humor]: "Broad majority of Americans support moving Trump to Jerusalem."
- Cartoon of the day: The domino gap effect. [Image]
- My wife says that nothing makes her happier than a diamond necklace, so I got her nothing for Christmas.
(5) The #MeToo movement is changing the US political scene: Not only it is driving badly-behaving men out, but it is expected to put more women in elected positions.
(6) Skier Lindsey Vonn says she will represent the people of the United States, not Donald Trump, at the winter Olympics. Expect a tweetstorm about this statement!

2017/12/06 (Wednesday): Here are five items of potential interest.
Last four couples in a dance marathon, Chicago, ca. 1930 Elton John, Diana Ross, and Cher at the Rock Music Awards, 1975 James Dean attending a ballet class in NYC, 1955 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Last four couples in a dance marathon, Chicago, ca. 1930; Notice that the women fared better than the men! [Center] Elton John, Diana Ross, and Cher at the Rock Music Awards, 1975. [Right] James Dean attending a ballet class in New York City, 1955.
(2) America's new warriors: "It's easier to put 'trainers' and 'advisers' in a country and say we don't have 'boots on the ground'." ~ GOP Representative and former Navy Seal Scott Taylor, quoted in Time magazine
(3) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- The #MeToo movement and its brave silence-breakers chosen as Time magazine's Person of the Year.
- Tillerson gets an earful from European leaders, due to Trump's "Jerusalem as capital" announcement.
- Bannon appears to be on success path in his goal of totally destroying the Republican Party.
- Cover of Montecito Journal, winter 2017-2018 issue, featuring the area's most prominent show-biz family.
- Good for a chuckle: Q: What do you call elves who work at the North Pole? A: Subordinate Clauses.
- Cartoon of the day: "Hello, I'm death and taxes ... We merged." [Image]
(4) Stories related to multiple wildfires raging in Southern California:
- Skirball Fire has closed the 405 Freeway in both directions. Bad news for LAX travelers from our area.
- Fire raging in Santa Clarita, next to Six Flags "Magic Mountain" amusement park. [Photo]
- Air quality is a tad better at UCSB today, but you can still see smoke haze in the air. [Photo 1] [Photo 2]
- Parts of Carpinteria get voluntary evacuation orders. The fire seems to be moving north from Ventura.
- Received an emergency-alert text message: Fire danger in our area due to strong winds.
- California wildfires in 2017 (thus far): 6700 total fires; 8500 structures destroyed; 43 people killed.
(5) Computer Systems for the Brain Sciences: This was the title of a CS-Department-sponsored talk this afternoon by Abhishek Bhattacharjee (Assoc. Prof., Rutgers U.). Of course, brain science makes broad use of computers and other digital systems in many different ways, so a clarification is in order. The speaker's interests lie in computing capabilities of devices implanted in the brain. Given the very limited power that can be supplied to such implants, and restrictions on heat dissipation (research shows that even a 2-degree rise in an implant's temperature can cause damage to brain tissue), the norm so far has been to use implants for collecting data and to then send the data to external computing devices for processing. The speaker has been trying to incorporate much greater computing power in the implants, without a significant increase in energy demands or operating temperature.

2017/12/05 (Tuesday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Standoff between US and Soviet tanks at checkpoint Charlie, 1961 Tokyo after World War II, 1945 An English cavalryman rides through a gas attack with protective mask and body cover, 1934 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Standoff between US and Soviet tanks at checkpoint Charlie, 1961. [Center] Tokyo after World War II, 1945. [Right] An English cavalryman rides through a gas attack with protective mask and body cover, 1934.
(2) We have already had three power disruptions since sunrise this morning: Last night and earlier this morning, we had four. This is what it means to have infrastructural problems of a Third-World country. Electric power should be a reliable resource. When balckouts occur due to an emergency, power should not be restored until there is a high assurance that it will not go back out. Cutting or restoring power to a city or even a large neighborhood should not be done casually. In a home, you can flip a switch to turn a light on and then turn it back off immediately. No damage will be done. The situation is different for large electric loads. Each disruption, however brief, sets off a chain reaction of electrical surges and system resets that create havoc, leading to potential equipment damage and secondary failures in associated services. Our power grid and its management protocols are hopelessly outdated. [This photo shows the sky around my home at the beginning of last night's 5-hour blackout, caused by Ventura County's Thomas Fire, during which I read a book by candlelight!]
[Examples of structures destroyed in Ventura County's Thomas Fire.] [Video]
[Midnight update: Thomas Fire is 0% controlled: It jumped the 101 Freeway; 12,000 homes threatened.]
(3) Definition of dim-wit: A guy, who is arrested and charged with illicit contacts with Russia and given explicit instructions not to contact the media or Russians, cooperating with a Russian intelligence operative on an editorial piece for a Russian publication.
(4) Higher Education Act Overhaul released by the GOP: The provisions will hurt traditional universities and the ability of their students to secure loans, while they remove key restrictions on for-profit colleges.
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Ali Abdullah Saleh, former president of Yemen, killed by Houthi rebels near the capital, Sanaa.
- Graduate students nationwide protest GOP's removal of tax exemption for tuition and fee waivers.
- Robot taxis and delivery cars will be deployed next year, according to Delphi Automotive's CEO.
- Good for a chuckle: Q: Which nation's capital is the largest? A: Ireland. It's Dublin every year.
- Wild Wild West Wing: the story of an out-of-control president who shoots from the lip.
- Cartoon of the day: Men with crossbow heads shoot at a woman walking with a child. [Image]
(6) Overcoming Biases that Affect the Evaluation of Women and Minorities: This was the title of an informative and entertaining talk by Stephanie K. Johnson (Professor, School of Business, University of Colorado, Boulder), who spoke to a standing-room-only crowd in a large lecture hall at UCSB this afternoon. [Images]
The talk carried three main messages. First, gender and racial diversity in the workforce improves productivity, creativity, and the bottom line, whether it's measured in revenues, profitability, or stock prices. Second, perception of bias and inequality is quite subjective. Even white men may perceive that there is bias against them, so we need scientifically rigorous studies to reveal and assess bias. Third, there exist quite effective methods for increasing diversity, without imposing quotas or giving unfair attention to certain applicants.
It is very important for white men to get on board, as advocacy of women and minorities for greater diversity may be viewed as suspicious and self-serving. Numerous studies have shown that even in situations where there is a claim of fairness, bias and stereotyping creep in when making decisions. A good example is provided by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, which increased the fraction of women players significantly when it switched to blind auditions, with canidates playing behind a curtain. Double-blind reviewing of scientific/technical articles, and evaluation of outcomes of hiring decisions when the gender or ethnicity of the applicant is hidden or disguised, all point to a hidden bias that disappears with appropriate provisions.
Unconscious bias plays some cruel tricks, not always in the direction one might imagine. For example, when there are four equally qualified finalists for a job, three men and one woman, a man has more than the fair 75% chance of being offered the job. But if the numbers are reversed, hiring a woman becomes more likely than the expectation. Here, the majority of candidates establish a stereotype that affects the final decision. In the mix among four final candidates is two men and two women, then the chance of the final hire being a woman or a man becomes 50%. This odd-person-out effect is seen in other contexts as well. The speaker provided many examples of interesting situations from her consulting work with corporate clients, illustrating best practices, opportunities, and pitfalls in pursuing diversity goals.

2017/12/04 (Monday): Here are Seven items of potential interest.
About 4.5 megabytes of data on 62,500 punched cards, USA, 1955 Telephone tower in Stockholm, Sweden, that served over 5000 customer lines, ca. 1890 Scene from the 1959 classic comedy 'Some Like It Hot,' starring Tony Curtis, Jack Lemon, and Marilyn Monroe (1) History in pictures: [Left] About 4.5 megabytes of data on 62,500 punched cards, USA, 1955. [Center] Telephone tower in Stockholm, Sweden, that served over 5000 customer lines, ca. 1890. [Right] Scene from the 1959 classic comedy "Some Like It Hot," starring Tony Curtis, Jack Lemon, and Marilyn Monroe.
(2) Rex Tillerson and Jared Kushner will depart the White House soon: Tillerson has been in the cross-hairs for some time now and Kushner has become a liability. It is unlikely that Ivanka will stay without Jared.
(3) James Comey pushes back against Trump's tweet that FBI's reputation is 'in tatters': "The FBI is honest. The FBI is strong. And the FBI is, and always will be, independent." After Comey's defense of the FBI, Sally Yates also tweeted on 12/03: "The FBI is in 'tatters'? No. The only thing in tatters is the President's respect for the rule of law. The dedicated men and women of the FBI deserve better."
(4) Fifty years of "60 Minutes": Last night, the iconic newsmagazine looked back on its 50-year history by showing its most-memorable stories and interviews with world leaders, celebrities, con-men, and many others.
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- McCain finally caved on the middle-class-killing tax bill, sacrificing grad students in the process.
- Now that Trump has gotten his "big win" on taxes, perhaps he'll stop acting like an attention-deprived bully!
- A mostly-sunny week with spring-like temperatures is in store for us, here in Goleta! [Chart]
- "The world won't be much changed by anything I do ~ But what will change will be me." ~ Ashleigh Brilliant
- Last night's super moon, shot from my patio. [Photo]
- Some shots from the north-central part of the UCSB campus, early this afternoon. [Photos]
(6) Trump's Twitter account: His Twitter feed is a mostly one-way affair. He has 43.6 million followers, but follows only 45 (family members, family businesses, current/former advisers, a few supportive journalists, and a handful of conservative commentators. He follows no mainstream news source, not even Breitbart.
(7) Cybersecurity, Nuclear Security, Alan Turing, and Illogical Logic: This is the title of an article in Communications of the ACM (December 2017 issue), which is based on the 2015 Turing Award Lecture by Martin E. Hellman. The Turing Award honored work Hellman did four decades ago and, since then, his interests have changed. He states that he is now working, with his wife Dorothie, on a book, A New Map for Relationships: Creating True Love at Home & Peace on the Planet. Though the new book seems unrelated to Hellman's award-winning work on public-key cryptography, his Turing Lecture drew a number of parallels between the two universes, which are brought out in this important article. One of the article's key insights is that in making ethical decisions, we need to zealously guard against fooling ourselves about our real motivations. A second key insight is that a major advance in factoring integers and discrete logarithms might break existing public-key systems. From this article, we learn about political fights dictating the outcome of a standard that should have been based on technical merit. We are also given food for thought on whether cyber-deterrence will work as well as nuclear-deterrence has worked as a strategy so far, and on whether the latter is indeed a reasonable strategy. Hellman concludes his article thus: "What is the point of developing elegant algorithms (such as Diffie-Hellman-Merkle Key Exchange) if no one is around in 100 years to use them?"

Cover image of the book 'Zionism: A Very Short Introduction' 2017/12/03 (Sunday): Book review: Stanslawski, Michael, Zionism: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2017. [My 5-star review on GoodReads]
Let me begin by listing the 10 chapters, excluding an epilogue, that average 11 pages in length and provide a good view of the book's contents and structure:
1. The Jews: Religion or Nation? (pp. 1-10)
2. Modern Jewish Nationalism (pp. 11-21)
3. Theodore Herzl and the Creation of the Zionist Movement, 1897-1917 (pp. 22-34)
4. The Weizmann Era and the Balfour Declaration (pp. 35-43)
5. Socialist and Revisionist Zionism, 1917-1939 (pp. 44-50)
6. Zionism in World War II and Its Aftermath (pp. 51-63)
7. Zionism in a Jewish State, 1948-1967 (pp. 64-80)
8. Nationalism and Messianism, 1967-1977 (pp. 81-94)
9. Swing to the Right, 1977-1995 (pp. 95-105)
10. Transformation of Zionism Since 1995 (pp. 106-111)
I have read quite a few of the titles in Oxford's "A Very Short Introduction" series and, in all cases, have been impressed by the balance and thoroughness of the treatment, despite the small size of the books. Given the heavy use of the word "Zionism" in today's political news and the many conflicting views of it, I seized the chance of reading the book when I found it among the volumes on UCSB Library's new-arrivals bookshelf.
Zionism, if defined as a nationalist movement affirming the right of Jews to self-determination, has a long history. However, the modern notion of Zionism is traced back to Theodor Herzl, who is credited with formulating the idea of a secular state for the Jews, which is quite different from a "Jewish state." Herzl's liberal, utopian vision (a sort of Jewish enlightenment) faced three opposing groups from within the movement. These were a "Democratic Faction," which, fearing Herzl's dictatorial tendencies, favored a revolutionary transformation based on secular Hebrew culture, the socialist/Marxist/communist front, which emphasizes solutions to the "Arab Problem" in Palestine, and the group that favored embracing Orthodox Judaism.
The internal conflicts of Zionism mirrored those of the broader European community (within which the movement grew), where nations were taking sides in multifaceted political and economic ideologies.
One of the inventors, if that's the right word to use, of Jewish enlightenment was Moses Mendelssohn, a formidable philosopher of the 18th century, who viewed Judaism as just another religion that must be tolerated in a modern free state. Following this interpretation, it would have been feasible to integrate the Arabs, who formed the majority of the population in the new state, into a modern secular state run according to the latest scientific principles.
When Herzl died at the young age of 44, Chaim Weizmann, a renowned chemist with several important inventions to his credit, led the Zionism movement, though he didn't enjoy broad acceptance right away. Weizmann tried to iron over some of the differences by gradually moving to combine cultural and political Zionism. Work on the "Arab Problem," which had led to the consideration of other locations, such as Uganda in lieu of Palestine to site the new state, continued under his leadership.
Enlightenment meant that Jews had to abandon their roles as small-time merchants to become farmers, artisans, and professionals. Modern Jewish nationalism, with Hebrew as the common language, gained strong support, because it was seen as an antidote to assimilation, which some viewed as a grave danger. Europe's rabbis "denounced Herzl as a heretical scoundrel out to destroy Judaism by disobeying God's commandments."
Over time, Zionists attracted support from politicians in Europe, who became sympathetic to the cause but who could not promise a homeland, given that they had no control over Palestine. The Balfour declaration laid out the support in principle, in a carefully-worded document which, postulates, among other conditions, "that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights or political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country" [p. 42].
World War II and the ensuing atrocities against the Jews empowered Zionism's right-wing nationalists, who gradually gained more support. The desire to settle in Palestine intensified after WW II, when a large number of Jews in Displaced Persons Camps had no place to go. At about this time, the Soviet Union reversed its decades-long opposition to Zionism, in part, it is believed, to claim a stake in the power vacuum anticipated after the departure of the British from the Middle East.
It is noteworthy that Israel's declaration of independence contained no mention of God or the "divine promise." What united the new Israelis were the Hebrew language, a secular school system, and the decidedly-secular army. Once Israel was formed, governing proved difficult and many concessions and compromises had to be made to satisfy various factions. These included religious courts, observance of Saturdays and other religious holidays, serving kosher food in the army and government institutions, and allowing separate religious schools for ultra-orthodox Jews. These concessions to the religious factions were not inevitable and, in retrospect, may have been fatal mistakes for the state of Israel. Religious groups made inroads owing to the inability of the secular and progressive groups to iron out their differences. Religious groups have also been blamed for the promised constitution not being written, because they insisted that it should be based on Jewish law.
Beginning in the late 1970s, revisionist Zionism gained power, leading to peace with Egypt's Sadat. A second major transformation occurred upon the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 and the migration of many Russian Jews to Israel. It is interesting that the bulk of migrations to Israel have been by relatively poor Jews around the world. Jews in North America, for example, constitute a minute fraction of those relocating to Israel. There is a saying that in the Diaspora, "Zionism means one Jew collecting money from a second Jew to send a third Jew to Israel"!
In 1870, no one spoke Hebrew as their primaty tongue, whereas roughly 8 million people speak the language fluently now. It is remarkable that in the history of Zionism, beginning with Herzl, not one single leader of the movement or Israeli Prime Minister has been a practicing Jew. At this writing, Zionists are predominantly secular, the only exception being a small group of ultra-orthodox Jews.
The state of Israel was finally created in 1948 under the leadership of David Ben-Gurion, five decades after Herzl initiated the Zionist movement. The Zionists success in bringing the state of Israel about and the remarkable social and technical accomplishments of the state are marred by a longstanding, and seemingly insoluble, conflict in the region, as the Middle East sinks further into destabilization.
The anthem of Zionists, "Hatikvah" ("The Hope"), which later became the Israeli national anthem, contains the following words: "We have not yet lost our hope." The hope of "[being] a free nation in our own land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem" has at best been only partially realized.

2017/12/02 (Saturday): Here are six items of potential interest.
This view of Boston is the oldest surviving aerial photo ever takan, October 13, 1860 George W. McLaurin, a 54-year-old African-American, was forced to sit apart from white students upon admission to University of Oklahoma in 1948 Coca Cola delivery truck, 1909 (1) History in pictures: [Left] This view of Boston is the oldest surviving aerial photo ever takan, October 13, 1860. [Center] George W. McLaurin, a 54-year-old African-American, was forced to sit apart from white students upon admission to University of Oklahoma in 1948. [Right] Coca Cola delivery truck, 1909.
(2) Any demagogue or despot who ends up destroying a country keeps insisting till his last day that he is moving it toward greatness. [Persian version]
(3) So, Republican and Democratic administrations are equally corrupt, huh? [Chart]
(4) Trump is reportedly looking for a larger bus to throw people under. A regular bus won't do any more!
(5) Ten brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Details of perjury charges against former National Security Adviser to President Trump, Michael Flynn.
- Trump cnanges his story about why he fired his National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
- Obama should be detained for making fun of Trump, says Fox host Lou Dobbs.
- GOP tax bill's passage isn't the end of the line. Let's expose its provisions, inserted in cowardly, secretive way!
- Supreme Leader Khamenei's Ahmadinejad problem is back, much to his consternation.
- Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps: A tangled web of corruption, illegal deals, and counterfeit money.
- The distant planet WASP-18b has no water and its atmosphere consists entirely of carbon-monoxide.
- Reuters' revolutionary AI system automatically identifies breaking news stories by analyzing Twitter data.
- Swimming robots, dubbed "PipeFish," can be inserted into water pipes to detect leaks.
- Traditional Persian music: Footage of practice session for a new song. Is it Soosan? Who is the tar player?
(6) UCSB Middle East Ensemble in concert: I have previously posted about subsets of this large, diverse Ensemble (which includes a dance troupe) performing during Wednesday noon mini-concerts, but tonight they had a full, formal program at UCSB's Lotte Lehman Concert Hall, with special guest performer soprano Dr. Isabel Bayrakdarian (of Armenian heritage, born in Lebanon). The program included Arabic, Armenian, Greek, Persian, and other musical styles. UCSB Middle East Ensemble prepares detailed program booklets, which include song histories and texts of lyrics in the original language, in transliterated form, and in English. These 12 photos and 7 videos provide a sample of the very enjoyable concert. One of the photos captures tonight's supermoon and another one shows holiday decorations I encountered as I walked home from the campus.

2017/12/01 (Friday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Berlin Wall, 1989 LEGO Minfig patent diagram, ca. 1979 Two lumberjacks on a big tree in the Pacific Northwest, 1915 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Berlin Wall, 1989. [Center] LEGO Minfig patent diagram, ca. 1979. [Right] Two lumberjacks on a big tree in the Pacific Northwest, 1915.
(2) Tweet of the day: "This tax bill will affect the lives of everyone. Your parents. Your grandparents. Children. And it's being rewritten in secret, on the same day they want to bring it to a vote. This is no way to govern." ~ US Senator Kamala Harri
(3) Our president does not understand the American justice system, the presumption of innocence, and the fact that each case must be tried on its own merit. We are not a nation of kangaroo courts. The 20th murder of a serial killer needs as much evidence ("beyond a reasonable doubt") as the first. Sad!
Here is what Trump tweeted: "The jury was not told the killer of Kate was a 7 time felon. The Schumer/Pelosi Democrats are so weak on Crime that they will pay a big price in the 2018 and 2020 Elections."
(4) You should start familiarizing yourself with the US line of succession, in case both Trump and Pence are taken down by the Mueller investigation: Meet our potential next president, Paul Ryan, the spineless, hypocritical Speaker of the House of Representatives. who once said he could not support Trump, but then quickly fell in line when Trump was elected.
(5) Eight brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Michael Flynn charged by Mueller for willful false statement on his link with Russians. He pleaded guilty.
- Now we know why DJT tried to shield Flynn: He is set to testify that Trump directed him to contact Russia.
- The GOP tax bill that may be put to vote tonight has undisclosed, handwritten corrections in the margins.
- US Treasury Department's promised and even cited analysis of GOP tax bill's impact is still missing.
- Lindsey Graham faults the press for making Trump look like 'a kook." He said in 2016 that Trump is 'a kook.'
- Soccer World Cup draw results: Iran is in Group B, which also includes Portugal, Spain, and Morocco. [Chart]
- Why are actors and journalists quickly purged for sexual misconduct, whereas politicans get free passes?
- Cartoon of the day: The strange case of President Trump and @realDonaldTrump. [Image]
(6) Phew, what a week! It began with a root-canal procedure on Monday (not too bad, as root-canals go), then a weeknight trip under very heavy traffic to Los Angeles to attend a human-rights meeting, writing a bilingual report about the forum, meeting a couple of work-related deadlines, dealing with a leaky solar-heater tank (that was finally replaced this afternoon), and getting my new cleaning lady started on her first day. Things are calming down for the weekend, when I hope to be able to catch up with a lot of stuff.

2017/11/30 (Thursday): Here are six items of potential interest.
It seems that Trump did make the cover of Time magazine after all! Doorknob for those who do not want visitors over the holidays Sample jewelry for geeks (1) Some interesting photos: [Left] It seems that Trump did make the cover of Time magazine after all! [Center] Doorknob for those who do not want visitors over the holidays. [Right] Sample jewelry for geeks.
(2) Men behaving badly: Last night, I was reflecting on all the powerful men who have recently fallen from grace for sexual misconduct. It occurred to me that, for some (usually unknown) reason, I never really liked these men. Harvey Weinstein and Bill O'Reilly constituted extreme cases of dislike (Matt Lauer, a milder case), while Charlie Rose and Garrison Keillor just seemed creepy. Kevin Spacey came closest to being likeable, but there was some unease even in his case.
(3) AI program uses Google Maps' street-view images to automatically recognize makes and models of parked cars, using the info to deduce political leanings of various neighborhoods. Scary!
(4) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- The Navajo Nation condemns Trump's "display of immaturity and short-sightedness" in a letter.
- Afghan all-girl robotics team continues to shine.
- Pottery fragments from 8000 years ago found in Georgia (S. Caucasus) hold oldest known wine residue.
- Iranian cinema is full of Harvey-Weinstein-like figures, who prey on young, ambitious actresses.
- We give Israel, a country with free healthcare and college, $10M a day. How is that "America First"?
- Cartoon of the day: "We'll have this [GOP tax plan] off the ground in no time!" [Image]
(5) Language translation, without a dictionary: Researchers at the University of the Basque Country (UPV) in Spain and Facebook have separately developed unsupervised machine-learning techniques for teaching neural networks to translate between languages with no parallel texts. Each method employs as training strategies back translation and denoising; in the first process, a sentence in one language is approximately translated into the other, then translated back into the original language, with networks adjusted to make subsequent attempts closer to identical. Meanwhile, denoising adds noise to a sentence by rearranging or removing words, and attempts to translate that back into the original. The UPV method translates more frequently during training, while the Facebook technique, in addition to encoding a sentence from one language into a more abstract representation before decoding it into the other language, also confirms the intermediate language is truly abstract. When translating between English and French in a vast sentence database, both systems received a bilingual evaluation understudy score of about 15 in both directions, compared to Google Translate, which scores about 40, and humans, who can score more than 50. [From: ACM Tech News]
(6) UCSB Arts & Lectures "Thematic Learning" event: Emily Esfahani Smith (Persian name Golnar), author of The Power of Meaning: Finding Fulfillment in a World Obsessed with Happiness, spoke at UCSB's Campbell Hall, beginning at 7:30 tonight. These photos show A&L's announcement of the book talk, the book's cover image, table of contents, and dedication page (signed by the author). The book is on my (very long) "to read" list, so for now, I include Susan Cain's praise from the book's front matter (Cain is the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can's Stop Talking, a book I am now listening to): "Beautifully written and rigorously researched, The Power of Meaning speaks to the yearning we all share for a life of depth and significance. In a culture constantly shouting about happiness, this warm and wise book leads us down the path to what truly matters. Reading it is a life-transforming experience." [Esfhani Smith's 12-minute TED talk]

2017/11/29 (Wednesday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Illustration from the first edition of 'The Wizard of Oz,' 1900 Sharpshooter Annie Oakley using a hand mirror to shoot over her shoulder circa 1899 The original Moulin Rouge the year before it burned down, Paris, 1914 (photo from Albert Kahn Museum collection) (1) History in pictures: [Left] Illustration from the first edition of "The Wizard of Oz," 1900. [Center] Sharpshooter Annie Oakley using a hand mirror to shoot over her shoulder circa 1899. [Right] The original Moulin Rouge the year before it burned down, Paris, 1914 (photo from Albert Kahn Museum collection).
(2) With sexual misconduct allegations piling up, I am starting to think that maybe invention of the zipper wasn't such a good idea!
(3) Notable SoCal faculty member: Maja Mataric, featured in "People of ACM," is a computer science professor at the University of Southern California, with appointments in the Neuroscience Program and the Department of Pediatrics. She is also founding director of USC's Robotics and Autonomous Systems Center, Co-director of the USC Robotics Research Lab, and Vice Dean for Research at USC's Viterbi School of Engineering. One of Mataric's research foci is socially assistive robotics, a field that barely existed 15 years ago, but which is now growing at a high rate.
(4) How many years of an average family's full annual income are needed to buy a home in various big cities in North America: Vancouver, 17.3; San Francisco, 13.8; Boston, 10.0; San Diego, 8.3; Mexico City, 6.1; Chicago, 5.9; Montreal, 4.2; Detroit, 1.8. [Source: Time magazine, November 27 and December 4, 2017, issue]
(5) Eight brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi cancel a budget meeting with Trump after he tweeted, "I don't see a deal!"
- Racist and alt-right groups are dismayed by Prince Harry's decision to marry a biracial American actress.
- More than 180 women have been sexually assaulted at Massage Envy franchises, according to CBS News.
- An "Impeach Trump" billboard goes up at NYC's Times Square. [Photo]
- Abraham Lincoln's presidential papers have been published on-line in full color.
- Hawaii plans to test its nuclear sirens for the first time since the end of the Cold War.
- World Music Series concert: UCSB Gospel Choir performed at the Music Bowl, today at noon. [Video]
- Cartoon of the day: Books on tape. [By John Atkinson]
(6) After NBC fired Matt Lauer over allegations of sexual misconduct, other women have come forward.

2017/11/28 (Tuesday): Here are four items of potential interest.
Charlie Chaplin in front of Federal Hall on Wall Street, 1918 Albert Einstein, his secretary Helen (left), and daughter Margaret (right) becoming US citizens to avoid returning to Nazi Germany, 1940 Testing a bulletproof vest, 1923 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Charlie Chaplin in front of Federal Hall on Wall Street, 1918. [Center] Albert Einstein, his secretary Helen (left), and daughter Margaret (right) becoming US citizens to avoid returning to Nazi Germany, 1940. [Right] Testing a bulletproof vest, 1923.
(2) Talk about fake news: Woman linked to Project Veritas, a far-right organization to which Trump has donated money, tried to dupe Washington Post reporters into publishing a fake news story about Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore (presumably to then cry "Fake News"), but WP's research unveiled the plot.
(3) What a high-IQ family! Eric Trump defends his dad's Pocahontas comment, finding it "ironic" that an ABC News reporter (whose parent company made millions from its "Pocahontas" film) would diss the comment, oblivious to the fact that making a film to honor the Native American historical figure is different from using her name as an insult.
(4) Striving for Human Rights in Iran: This was the title of a well-attended symposium held at Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, beginning at 7:30 PM (Persian time) on Tuesday, November 28, 2017. The format consisted of three speakers, named below, making extended statements and then joined by comedian and rights activist Maz Jobrani in a Q&A/discussion session moderated by Masih Alinejad. The moderator for the entire proceedings was Homa Sarshar (author, activist, feminist, and journalist), who also served as a discussant at the end.
- Dr. Kazem Alamdari, Emiritus Professor of Sociology, Cal State Northridge (author of multiple books and a frequent commentator on Radio/TV programs)
- Dr. Abbas Milani, Director of Iranian Studies Program and Professor of Stanford University's Global Studies Division (author of multiple books and biographies)
- Masih Alinejad, exiled Iranian journalist living in the US (founder of the "My Stealthy Freedom" Facebook page, human/women's rights activist)
The goals of this annual symposium have been described by the organizers as taking stock of the current status of human rights in Iran and ongoing violations thereof.
Alamdari set the stage by overviewing the various notions of human rights emerging since the 17th century, including the modern version adopted by the UN in 1948. He then cited examples of human rights violations in Iran. He planned to also discuss how Iran's Islamic clerics justify human rights violations and rampant corruption and how ordinary citizens can participate in stopping rights violations, but he ran out of time and said a few words about the latter topic during the discussion period.
Milani began by alluding to resistance exhibited by Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, observing that Iran's version of civil disobedience is both broader and stronger than any other one in the past century. Iran has a long history of honoring human rights. Today, human rights are inexorably linked to the notion of modernity and its affinity with privacy and the government staying out of citizens' private lives. Governments derive their legitimacy from people, who have the right to change the government at will. Any government that considers itself God's agent (as was also the case several centuries ago in Europe) will have issues with modernity and thus with human rights.
Alinejad delivered an impassioned speech (sample video). A major problem is self-censorship, or the hush-hush effect, imposed by other members of the society, who consider certain demands, such as freedom from mandatory hijab, less important than dealing with poverty and political oppression. She showed a video clip depicting civil disobedience by Iranian women who defy mandatory hijab laws and a touching plea by a disabled Iranian woman who asked that she be viewed as a human being and a woman, who happens to be disabled, and not the other way around. Paradoxically, the hijab problem does not stay within Iran's borders and rears its head when international sporting events (such as the upcoming Soccer World Cup) are to be shown in Iran.
During the Q&A/discussion session, Alamdari elaborated that each person can be active in safeguarding his/her own rights (every little step helps), with human-rights activists spreading the word and defending the rights of all members of the society.
Jobrani discussed his activism in opposition to the recent travel ban and his comedy performances in a number of Middle Eastern countries (not Iran, where he wouldn't be welcome), which have undergone changes leading to some openness. He quipped that some Iranian-Americans voted for Trump, expecting their taxes to be cut, whereas he cut their families!
Milani expressed his puzzlement that, given the tight grip of Iran's security apparatus, so much resistance effectively goes unpunished. One theory is that they are using the resistance as a safety valve that eases the pressures and makes the country more governable. His own theory is that the resistance is so widespread that the regime has given up trying to suppress everything. Iranians' fear of a war, which might turn the country into another Syria or Iraq, works to the regime's advantage.
Sarshar related the story of becoming upset as a girl that her religion was recorded in her national identity card, venturing a solo trip to Shiraz to have the information removed (she succeeded, after paying a bribe). She resents being asked what she thinks about various sociopolitical issues "as a Jewish woman," as if she is defined by her religion and sex. She'd rather comment as a human being.
A very unfortunate feature of the event, quite ironic, given that freedom and human rights were being discussed, was a few members of the audience shouting accusatory questions in the middle of Alinejad's talk and during the discussion period.
[A personal note: From the replies to the event invitation on Facebook, I noticed that quite a few friends attended the symposium. I am sorry I could not stay around to say hi, given that I had a 2-hour drive to get home. It took me almost 3 hours to get there from Santa Barbara, but I am glad I decided to make the trip.]
[Link to my Facebook post containing photos, a couple of videos, and the report above in Persian.]

2017/11/27 (Monday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
The first photo taken on the surface of the moon by a human being (Neil Armstrong), 1969 First photo of Machu Picchu, taken upon its discovery, 1912 First photo of Earth from outer space, taken by strapping a camera to a US-captured Nazi V-2 Rocket and hoping the film would survive the crash, 1946 (1) History in pictures: [Left] The first photo taken on the surface of the moon by a human being (Neil Armstrong), 1969. [Center] First photo of Machu Picchu, taken upon its discovery, 1912. [Right] First photo of Earth from outer space, taken by strapping a camera to a US-captured Nazi V-2 Rocket and hoping the film would survive the crash, 1946.
(2) How sales can make you overspend: Here is good advice from Time magazine, issue of November 27 and December 4, 2017, on how to view sale prices based on values rather than mark-downs. "When we see a sale price, we shouldn't consider what the price used to be or how much we're saving ... Buying a $60 shirt marked down from $100 isn't saving $40; it's spending $60."
(3) Trump targets yet another minority group with a racial slur: In a ceremony held to honor Native-American World War II veterans, he derides Elizabeth Warren by referring to her as "Pocahontas." A Native American spokesman said, "we as the Navajo Nation don't feel any member of any tribal nation should be used as the punchline of a joke."
(4) Changes (in $ millions) in federal revenues under the GOP tax plan: Positive numbers in this table mean more government revenue, or higher taxes, for the corresponding income bracket.
(5) Ten brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Bali's Mount Agung volcanic eruption deemed imminent, prompting mass evacuations.
- The Russia story: It's not about the other shoe dropping, but 99 other shoes dropping; we have a centipede!
- After apologizing for the 'Access Hollywood' tape, the Toddler-in-Chief asserted that the tape was fake!
- Borowitz Report: Trump claims the voice on 'Access Hollywood' tape is actually Hillary Clinton imitating him.
- Tehran billboard suggests Iran's regime and its opponents are united against Trump and Saudi threats.
- An important side benefit of driverless car technology is greater mobility for the elderly and the disabled.
- First-ever Jewish finalist in the Miss-Germany contest says she is proud to be a German Jew.
- Life is good—Don't spoil it by trying to understand it. ["Pot-Shots" meme, by Ashleigh Brilliant]
- SNL's word of the year: /kam'plisit/ (noun): a new fragrance for Ivanka Trump
- Tweet of the day: "A lunar eclipse flat-Earthers have never seen." ~ Neil deGrasse Tyson [Image]
(6) Piano recital: Tonight, I attended a wonderful recital by Gustavo Romero, performing as part of UCSB's Spanish Piano Festival (Alexander Boyd will perform Wednesday night in another installment). Emma Lou Diemer, who recently celebrated her 90th birthday, was in the audience and was introduced by Romero, after he performed her Sonata No. 3. [Samples of Romero's performances on YouTube]
(7) Apt final thought for the day, after a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend with the family: "I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual." ~ Henry David Thoreau

Cover image for 'The Power of Habit' 2017/11/26 (Sunday): Two items from the domain of neuroscience.
(1) Book review: Duhigg, Charles, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Mike Chamberlain, Random House Audio, 2012.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Habits are heuristics that allow the brain to control our activities without spending much time or energy. New research in neuroscience is producing a deep understanding of the role of, and formation mechanisms for, habits. Delegating much of our routine activities to the programmed habits frees our brain's resources to focus on non-routine and/or important tasks.
Formation of habits is through the establishment of special neural circuitry in the basal ganglia (a central part of our brain which controls motor activities). People who have suffered significant damage to their brain, to the extent that they are unable to form new memories, can continue to engage in activities driven by their habits. One subject, who suffered extensive brain damage, could not say where his home was located or sketch its floorplan, yet he could go for a walk and safely return home, and he could walk to the kitchen to get the snack he craved.
To put it simply, a habit consists of three components: a cue that triggers it, a routine, which is the main activity, and a reward. For example, if you have trouble exercising, you might try to form a habit with a cue (say, getting out of bed), the routine of jogging or other physical activity comprising your exercise regimen, and a reward, such as treating yourself to a smoothie afterwards. Whereas we can form new habits, modifying an old habit tends to be easier. The key is to keep the same cue and reward as the old habit and substitute a new activity. For example, to quit smoking, the cue might be craving a cigarette.
The observations above apply equally to personal habits and organizational habits (routines). One insight is that certain "keystone" habits help with the formation of other useful habits. A powerful example of habit-formation is found in the military. Trainees are exposed to different combat situations until the required reactions become more or less automatic.
Understanding habits, how they are formed, and how they can be modified constitute some of the major triumphs of neuroscience.
(2) Introduction to Neuroeconomics: How the Brain Makes Decisions (weeks 8-9; the end):
Having reported on the overall course structure and my experience in weeks 1-3 through a post on 10/24, weeks 4-5 on 10/29, and weeks 6-7 on 11/14, I briefly describe the contents of the final two weeks of the course here.
Week 8: The social brain: Games in the brain
a. Decisions in groups (game theory as a tool; the prisoner's dilemma as a model of cooperation)
Natural selection occurs at multiple levels: genes, individuals, groups of individuals. At the level of individuals, cheating may be the favored behavior, but at the level of groups, cooperation and altruism are favored.
Our brains are sensitized to face recognition, so when we look at the inside of a mask (concave), our brain automatically converts it to a regular face (convex).
In the prisoner/s dilemma game played only once, defection is the optimal strategy, whereas if the game is played repeatedly, cooperation (being nice) in the first instance and then mirroring the other side's previous move (tit for tat) is optimal.
b. Mirror neurons and empathy (a neural basis for social cooperation; mirror neurons)
Monitoring the brain activity when two players engage in a prisoner's-dilemma game allows us to predict the next move with relatively high probability by noting whether the reward area or the punishment area is activated after a move.
Oxytocin affects an individual's willingness to accept social risk arising from interpersonal interactions. We understand other people's actions/goals by simulating their brain activity in our own brain. The same may apply to empathy. Men show a stronger desire for revenge than women. Women show more empathy to all, whereas men show empathy to fair (nice) players and a desire for revenge to unfair (nasty) players. When the prisoner's-dilemma is played in large groups, the importance of punishment on ensuring cooperation increases.
Take-away message: There is strong evidence that cooperation has an evolutionary basis. People empathize with fair opponents, while favoring the punishment of unfair opponents.
Week 9: Evolutionary perspective on decision-making
a. Ontogenetic (and evolutionary) origin of cooperative decisions
Children are motivated to participate in cooperative social activity. They do not view their cooperative partner as a mere tool for achieving their own goals. They understand the value of cooperation.
Chimps exhibit human-like helpfulness by assisting other chimps or humans get food or achieve other goals. But they do not try to re-engage their partner once s/he loses interest.
b. Biological market theory
Examples of markets in nature (biological markets) include cleaning stations at sea, where certain fish eat dead skin cells, bacteria, and parasites off bigger fish, getting food and protection as rewards.
Among primates, grooming is a service that is often exchanged for food, sex, and other rewards. The grooming behavior in groups of primates follows the economic laws of supply and demand.
c. Capuchin monkeys (trading with capuchins; do capuchin monkeys reject unequal pay?)
Capuchin monkeys diverged from humans some 35M years ago. They can be trained to exchange tokens for small food rewarss. Humans are both loss-averse and risk-averse. We prefer a mediacl treatment that saves 200 of a potential set of 600 victims over one that kills 400 of the same group, even though the outcomes are exactly the same. We also take a smaller certain reward over a larger expected reward that is probabilistic.
The endowment effect: Humans overvalue objects that they own compared with those they do not own. Trading has the hallmarks of cooperation: Participants have to invest something in trading without a gurantee of better rewards. Capuchin monkeys were allowed to cooperate in pulling a tray that would provide food to only one of them. They did cooperate and then shared the food.
Like humans, monkeys reject unequal pay, and they are very similar to humans in other respects with regard to decision-making, suggesting that the observed behaviors were in the genes, many millions of years ago.

2017/11/25 (Saturday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
At my niece Yalda's engagement party (1) Today was the engagement party for my niece Yalda. We took this family photo near the end of the party.
(2) Trump lied about being considered as Person of the Year: Time magazine has disputed Trump's claim of "probably" being chosen as Person of the Year and telling the magazine editors "no, thanks."
(3) Quote of the day: "Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary." ~ Reinhold Niebuhr
(4) [A reporter, a historian, a comedian, a sociologist, and a moderator walk into a cultural center ...] Striving for Human Rights: A public forum at Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles; Tuesday, November 28, 2017, 7:30-10:30 PM.
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Out of 42 top economists, only one believes the GOP tax bill would help the economy.
- Roy Clark demonstrates his mastery of three different musical instruments in one song.
- This man-child's behavior was at first maddening, then it became comical, and now it is saddening!
- May I suggest that from now on, news media cover only DJT claims that are true? Wastes less paper and ink!
- Riddle of the day: If Teresa's daughter is my daughter's mother, what am I to Teresa?
- Persian-style celebration of holidays and other festive occasions! [Image]
(6) Fifty years after Forough Farrokhzad's death in a car accident at age 32, enigmatic artist Ebrahim Golestan talks about his extramarital affair with Iran's legendary poet.
(7) Passing on a wonderful song shared on Facebook by a musician friend: Ludwig Tuman directs the Choral Tales Project, which brings together music and folk tales from around the world.
(8) If you have not seen this precious little girl, you'll fall in love with her: Musical prodigy Alma Deutscher composes a piano sonata on the fly, beginning with 4 randomly drawn notes. Deutscher's compositions are performed all over the world. Here is a 20-minute documentary film about her "Finding Cindrella" opera, which she composed at age 11. In her story, Cindrella is a composer and the Prince is a poet, who falls in love with her talent, not her looks; no glass slippers and other silly things! And here is the full 94-minute opera.
(9) Observations on the human condition: "A man cannot unsee the truth. He cannot willingly return to darkness, or go blind once he has the gift of sight, any more than he can be unborn. We are the only species capable of self-reflection. The only species with the toxin of self-doubt written into our genetic code. Unequal to our gifts, we build, we buy, we consume. We wrap us in the illusion of material success. We cheat and deceive as we claw our way to the pinnacle of what we define as achievement. Superiority to other men." ~ Protagonist in the film "A Cure for Wellness," writing to his fellow board members who sent him on a mysterious mission
[The plot of this psychological thriller has the villain afflicting visitors to a spa in the Alps with a disease, because he believes disease is good for human beings. It gives them hope for a cure, otherwise there is no hope for curing the human condition.]

2017/11/23 (Thursday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Seasonal fruits Turkey and other yummy food Pies and other desserts (1) Happy Thanksgiving! On this day and every day of the year, I am thankful for my health, being surrounded by loving family and friends, and the privilege of doing what I love for a living. And, oh, for not being a turkey! Be careful about commenting on the last part, because as soon as my Chief of Staff allows me, I will retaliate!
(2) Ivanka and Kushner may be on their way out: Trump is reportedly pressuring Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner to move back to New York. Just another pair of allies thrown under the bus for his own survival?
(3) Quote of the day: "If Classical Music concerts had progress bars, then people unfamiliar with the piece would never be confused when to clap at the end." ~ Neil deGrasse Tyson
(4) Economic markets in nature: Here's another fun fact I learned from the neuroeconomics course I am taking. There are certain species of fish that work as cleaners, eating dead skin cells, bacteria, and parasites off other fish, sometimes swimming in a predator's mouth to do so. They get food and protection as rewards. Cleaning stations are set up, where fish can go to get cleaned. Clients compete for cleaner-fish services, and vice versa. In one scene near the end of this 6-minute video, a scuba-diver's mouth is cleaned by the fish!
(5) Ten brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Egypt mosque terror attack kills at least 235: Trump uses the incident to tout his wall and travel ban.
- Iranian commander: Tehran would intervene on the side of Hezbollah in the event of a war with Israel.
- Today's cyberthreats are as serious as the Cuban missile crisis. We need to de-escalate before it's too late.
- Kellyanne Conway violated federal law when she attacked a Senate candidate during an appearance on TV.
- Angry avatars help schizophrenics stop hearing destructive voices by shouting at them.
- Actress Uma Thurman just went full "Kill Bill" on Harvey Weinstein, who produced the film.
- Dopamine injection boosted our brains, thus setting us apart from chimps and monkeys.
- These majestic and endangered animals aren't trophies: Please use your house/truck for target practice!
- Putin treats Trump and his friends to a Thanksgiving feast! [Image]
- Women are leaving the party of Trump in droves: They are very active and rearing to run for office.
(6) Face recognition: Our brain is so well-tuned to recognizing faces that, when we see the reverse side (inside) of a mask, our brain automatically changes our perception to that of a regular convex face, rather than a concave one. [Something I learned in week 8 of the neuroeconomics course I am taking on-line.]
(7) Tweet of the day: "As a veteran I don't feel disrespected by those who kneel to protest injustice. I do feel disrespected by Trump pissing on the Constitution." ~ @CaseyHinds, responding to Tomi Lahren
(8) Final thought for the day: On Thanksgiving Day, we celebrate the kindness of Americans who fed diseased, undocumented, non-native-language-speaking, illegal aliens from Europe.

2017/11/22 (Wednesday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Pilot restarting a stalled propeller in flight, 1960s Young lovers embrace at Arc de Triomphe in Paris, 1960 New York City neighborhood, 1900 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Pilot restarting a stalled propeller in flight, 1960s. [Center] Young lovers embrace at Arc de Triomphe, 1960 (Thomas Nebbia, National Geographic Creative). [Right] NYC neighborhood, 1900.
(2) Iran's Supreme Leader is greeted warmly by earthquake victims: This is the fake-news headline of pro-government media in Iran about Khamenei's visit to Kurdistan's earthquake-ravaged areas. Look at this photo more closely and you will see that he was greeted not by ordinary people but by clerics and military personnel.
(3) Nasrin Setoudeh addresses the former President of Iran: Ahmadinejad is now part of an opposition group that has staged a sit-in to protest arbitrary arrests and prosecutions, conveniently forgetting that many victims of arbitrary arrests and prosecutions during his administration are still in prison.
(4) UCSB grad student in ICU: Atieh Taheri, suffering from spinal muscular atrophy, is at the ICU of Santa Barbara's Cottage Hospital. She is a graduate of Sharif University of Technology's computer engineering program and a current UCSB graduate student. Her family intends to take her to Stanford Medical Center as soon as feasible, because she can get better specialist help there. GoFundMe is being used to raise funds to help with her medical expenses. Here is Atieh's Facebook page. And here is the FB page of her sister, Atefeh Taheri, where she posts updates on Atieh's status and lists a second method of helping out via PayPal.
(5) Ten brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Saying that you should have left US citizens imprisoned because they don't like you as a leader is repugnent.
- Trump's endorsement of the misogynist and pedophile Roy Moore is the lowest point in US presidential history.
- Here we go again: Foreign-sponsored bots meddling in the on-going net-neutrality debate.
- Rafsanjani's daughter visits a Baha'i Leader: The two became friends when they served time together.
- Apple scientists publish research on their highly secretive self-driving-car project.
- AAAS and other scientific groups condemn GOP's tax bill as anti-science and harmful to graduate education.
- Kudos to this alert truck driver and the designers of his truck's braking system for saving a child's life.
- Quote of the day: "The secret of success is making your vocation your vacation." ~ Mark Twain
- Desert spring and winter: California and Texas, respectively. [Photos]
- A rather well-done 14-minute tour of Iran's geography, history, and culture.
(6) Are we any closer to solving the "P vs. NP" problem? MIT's Ryan Williams seems to have taken a step toward solving the infamous problem in theoretical computer science by connecting the domains of computational complexity and algorithm design. He has used the derivation of lower bounds on how much time a particular kind of circuit needs for solving a class of problems to derive mathematical functions for which the same class of circuits is provably inefficient.
(7) A perfect evening for walking in Santa Barbara's downtown streets and on Stearns Wharf: Spending time with my sons, watching a most colorful sunset, and dining at Santa Barbara Craft Ramen.

2017/11/21 (Tuesday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
The Bee Gees, 1959 Archery team, University of Chicago, 1935 A disabled war veteran begging in Berlin, 1923 (1) History in pictures: [Left] The Bee Gees, 1959. [Center] University of Chicago's archery team, 1935. [Right] A disabled war veteran begging in Berlin, 1923.
(2) The next step in self-driving car technology: Bringing the technology to older cars is the aim of a kit developed by the Canadian company X-Matik Inc. The kit, easily installed in about an hour, is said to provide an economical option for those who can't afford the sure-to-be-expensive initial self-driving car models.
(3) A pastor defended Roy Moore by citing the purity of young girls. Another said that more women are sexual predators than men!
(4) General McMaster believes that Trump has the intelligence of a kindergartner: "National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster mocked President Trump's intelligence at a private dinner with a powerful tech CEO, according to five sources with knowledge of the conversation."
(5) Eight brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Convoy of cars going to the aid of Kermanshah's earthquake victims in Iran creates a traffic jam.
- Quote of the day: "I don't know what I think until I write it down." ~ Joan Didion
- Question of the day: Will Trump repeal Obama's decisions on pardoning turkeys?
- Near-perfect frozen 40,000-year-old baby mammoth, discovered in 2007 by a reindeer herder in Siberia.
- Mehrnaz & Farnaz Dabirzadeh perform a cheerful traditional Persian tune: Parviz Meshkatian, composer.
- Disk drives from two old broken laptops, smashed with a hammer to make my private data inaccessible.
- I had not seen the leaning tower of Pisa and its adjacent cathedral from this angle before. Wonderful shot!
- Xi to Putin: "You were right—with this guy, [flattery] will get you ANYWHERE!" [Cartoon]
(6) Trophy hunting: A few days ago on NPR, someone observed that shooting an elephant with a high-power rifle is like shooting at a house: There's absolutely no challenge and it's not sports. I guess it's the same for other large, relatively slow-moving animals. [Image]
(7) Some photos from my visit to UCLA on Sudnay and Mondey (see the report of my lectures, posted on Monday 11/20). [The iconic Royce Hall and Powell Library] [A sampling of campus buildings, which include Dodd Hall (venue for Sunday's lecture) and the Humanities Building (venue for Monday afternoon's lecture, seen behind the trees of Dickson Court)] [Sculpture Garden]

2017/11/20 (Monday): My bilingual lectures at UCLA, today (in English) and yesterday (in Persian).
Flyer for the Persian lecture Photos taken at the lecture venues Flyer for the English lecture
"Computers and Challenges of Writing in Persian"
(Or "Fifty Years of Poor Penmanship: How Computers Struggled to Learn the Persian Script")
Speaker: Dr. Behrooz Parhami, Professor, UCSB [Photos in the middle above courtesy of Dr. Nayereh Tohidi]
Sunday, November 19, 2017, 4:00-6:00 PM, UCLA Dodd Hall, Room 121 (in Persian)
Monday, November 20, 2017, 2:00-4:00 PM, UCLA Humanities Building, Room 365 (in English)
On-line descriptions of the Persian and English lectures. Speaker's presentation slides (PDF file).
Modern Persian script is around 1200 years old and has undergone three developments in connection with modern technology. First, around 400 years ago, the introduction of printing presses in Iran necessitated significant changes to the script. Second, some seven decades ago, the script underwent additional changes for use with mechanical typewriters. Third, fifty-odd years ago, when banks and large governmental organizations imported electronic digital computers, the script had to be adapted to the fast-changing computer printer and display technologies. In all three instances, attributes of the Persian script made adaptation difficult and compromised the quality of the resulting script. Because changes made in connection with movable-type printers and typewriters subsequently affected the development of computer script, the talk covered aspects of all three transitions.
Movable-type fonts were developed based on the Naskh script, which was more suitable for the task than the artistic Nasta'liq. Each Persian letter was rendered in four variants (initial, middle, and final connected forms, as well as the solo form, not connected on either side) and realized in the form of small metal blocks that would be arranged into lines by a typesetter. Naskh script variants in the pre-printing era had many different shapes for each letter, which depended on context. Additionally, letters did not always appeared side by side, but rather were stacked on top of each other and their connections occurred as various heights within the written line. Movable fonts, on the other hand, had a horizontal connecting axis and connections between adjacent letters always occurred along that central line, thus making the shape of a letter independent of the surrounding letters, the four variants mentioned above notwithstanding.
With typewriters, even the four variants for each Persian letter were too many, because they would lead to some 120 forms (or 60 keys, assuming the use of a "shift" key) just for the letters, Add the digits, punctuation marks, and other special characters, and you see the problem. Fortunately, with very few exceptions (such as the letters "ein" and "ghein"), one can merge the two initial and middle forms, and do the same for the final and solo forms, to fit the resulting character set on a standard typewriter keyboard. This provision further degrades the quality of the resulting script, but over time, the ill effects are minimized through intelligent font design and human adaptation. IBM Selectric, a 1970s-vintage electric typewriter that introduced a golf-ball-like printing mechanism, already offered aesthetically-pleasing and very legible Persian script. Highly impressed, I chose the device to type an entire textbook in Persian, so as to give myself full technical and creative control over the final result.
Early computer displays had built-in "character generators" that drew letters and other symbols in geometric forms (a set of connected lines), which made it difficult to generate the Persian letters. There were also line-segment displays, used for calculators and other low-cost electronic devices. Early line-printers, used in computer centers, had rotating elements (drum, chain, and, later, daisy-chain, to name a few) that held a set of printable symbols. When a requisite symbol aligned with the print position as a result of rotation, a hammer mechanism would strike against the paper and ink ribbon, causing an impression of the letter to appear on paper. All oi these printing schemes would leave an undesirable space (corresponding to the mechanical spacing of the hammers) between adjacent Persian letters that should have been connected. Many ingenious schemes were proposed, implemented, and, occasionally abandoned, as we struggled to overcome technological limitations on the path to producing high-quality Persian output.
The beginnings of a solution presented itself when dot-matrix display units and printers were introduced. The idea is similar to what had been used for centuries in the Kufi script, which allowed artists to write decoratively on mosques and other important buildings in Persian and Arabic, using the juxtaposition of small square tiles of two or more colors. The simplest black-and-white dot-matrix may have 7 rows and 5 columns of dots. In both displaying and printing of information, a subset of the 35 dots would be rendered black and the others are left white, thus creating an approximate representation of the desired symbol. The simple 7 x 5 matrix is adequate for uppercase Latin letters and the larger 9 x 9 matrix also offers a reasonable representation of lower-case letters. Wide variation of letter widths and heights in Persian necessitates the use of a larger matrix to achieve the same aesthetic and legibility quality, which is now quite practical with high-definition displays and high-resolution printers, that even in their cheapest forms, now routinely offer 600 dots-per-inch quality.
The talk concluded with an overview of the current status of computer display and printing for the Persian script, features of the fonts provided by various applications, and areas where more work is still needed. Foremost among such areas is the resolution of problems in bilingual display/printing and nagging incompatibilities that cause formatting headaches when text is copied between various applications. A Q&A and discussion period ended the session.
[This Facebook post also contains a Persian version of the lecture summary presented above.]

2017/11/19 (Sunday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Easy Strimko with a 5-by-5 grid Medium Strimko with a 6-by-6 grid Hard Strimko with a 7-by-7 grid (1) Strimko, a Soduku-like puzzle that can be more challenging: As in Soduku, we have an n x n array of cells that should be filled using the numbers 1 through n, so that no row and no column contains repeated numbers. Instead of rectangular boxes in Soduku, we have cells interconnected via lines in arbitrary patterns. A set of interconnected cells also should contain no repetition. A typical puzzle has some of the cells already filled in (just as in Soduku) and you need to fill in the blank cells. Try the three puzzles above, ranging from easy 5 x 5 to hard 7 x 7. If you like these examples, you can find more at
(2) On Islamization of humanities and social sciences: Iran's Supreme Leader and his cronies want to purge their ideological rivals through the Islamization of university curricula, but their slogan "Islamization of humanities" has it backwards, according to Dr. Hossein Kamaly, quoted in this Persian-language article. Humanization of Islamic thought is the right way to go.
(3) Editing of genes inside the human body may become a reality: Previously, genes were edited in the lab, with the goal of re-incorporating them back into the patient's body. Now, a corrective gene is paired with two zinc finger proteins, which act as a kind of molecular scissors, cutting DNA to create a place where the new gene can insert itself.
(4) Columbia grad student Amanda Rose does the calculations to show how the GOP tax bill will reduce her usable income, after taxes and rent, from about $21K to approximately $6K per year, because of taxes due on her tuition and fee waivers. The last number on the page, showing the increase in her tax liability, should be 361% (the new number is 4.61 times the old one, but the increase is 361%). The same tax plan gives private-jet owners tax breaks for the costs of storage, maintenance, and fueling!
(5) The oldest piece of writing to use the word "America" appears on a 2D printed globe made by a German cartographer 510 years ago. The 2D globe will be auctioned off by Christie's on December 13, 2017.
(6) Pioneering hardware and software engineers: Howard Aiken (hardware architect, seated, center), Grace Murray Hopper (software engineer, seated, second from right), and others from the US Department of Defense in front of Harvard Mark I, 1944. [Image] [Image credit: Encyclopedia Britannica]
(7) UCSB Reads: The book chosen for community reading and discussion on our campus in 2018 is Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren, who chronicles her coming of age as a scientist, juxtaposing her scientific autobiography with beautifully-rendered meditations on the life of plants. The book, already on my to-read list, will now move forward in the queue! Community events related to this book will include a free lecture by Hope Jahren at UCSB's Campbell Hall on April 3, 2018.
(8) Headed to Los Angeles for lectures at UCLA, today 11/19 in Persian and tomorrow 11/20 in English.

2017/11/18 (Saturday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Inside a passenger plane, 1930 Before alarm clocks were affordable, 'knocker-ups' were used to wake people early in the morning, UK, ca. 1900 Londoners celebrate Christmas Day 1940 in an underground bomb shelter (1) History in pictures: [Left] Inside a passenger plane, 1930. [Center] Before alarm clocks were affordable, 'knocker-ups' were used to wake people early in the morning, UK, ca. 1900. [Right] Londoners celebrate Christmas Day 1940 in an underground bomb shelter.
(2) The anti-press President: "Most mornings, the early Twitter tweets of amateur President Donald Trump are like the loud passing of intestinal gas. They stink for a while but drift away. Thursday might have been the exception for this television-obsessed authoritarian." ~ From an article in The Observer
(3) As they say, people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones: Trump's unwise tweet about Al Franken has caused the media to revisit the history of sexual misconduct allegations against him.
(4) When Trump compared the upset victory of the young PM of New Zealand to his own, she replied to his face, in jest, "But no one marched when I was elected!" Welcome, New Zealand, to the list of failing countries!
(5) Eight brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Trump gives Palestine 90 days to get serious about peace talks with Israel, or its DC office will be closed.
- End days: How NASA monitors space for events that could end the world.
- Three-dimensional 3D-printed naonmagnets allow more compact data storage and processing.
- Machine-learning is being applied to the problem of diagnosing supercomputer malfunctions.
- Quantum computing with molecules allows quicker searching of unsorted data sets.
- Tesla unveils electric semi-truck with 500-mile range: Working on 400-mile charging scheme in 30 min.
- Fun fact of the day: In the US, 92% of Americans celebrate Christmas, including 81% of non-Christians.
- Cartoon of the day: The Gettysburg Address, delivered Trump style! [Image]
(6) [Political humor] Donald Trump: "I saw first-hand that the Great Wall of China works. During my visit there, I didn't encounter a single Mexican." ~ Seen on the Internet in various forms
(7) Given the welcome attention to the serious problem of sexual misconduct, the following would not have been tolerated, had they occurred in late 2017: Bill Clinton's continued presidency, Clarence Thomas' confirmation, Donald Trump's candidacy.
(8) Jordan Burroughs, American world and Olympic champion in freestyle wrestling who went to Kermanshah for the 2017 World Cup, sends thoughts and prayers to the people of Kermanshah in Persian on Instagram.
(9) Signing off with four black-and-white shots by photographer Helen Levitt. Titles are mine.
[Boy and the drama queen] [Curiosity killed the cat] [Couple on subway car] [Street performance]

2017/11/17 (Friday): Here are six items of potential interest.
A Japanese-American family returning home from an internment camp in Idaho One of the rare photographs of a slave ship. This was done by Marc Ferrez in 1882 Women protesting the forced hijab in Iran, days after the 1979 Revolution (1) History in pictures: [Left] A Japanese-American family returning home from an internment camp in Idaho. [Center] One of the rare photographs of a slave ship. This was done by Marc Ferrez in 1882. [Right] Women protesting the forced hijab in Iran, days after the 1979 Revolution.
(2) Donald Trump's tweet: "The Al Frankenstien (sic) picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words. Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 while she sleeps?"
Great question! Fortunately, the ambiguity does not exist about where your hands would go on a woman!
(3) Some Alabama Republicans are abandoning Roy Moore: They state their respect for the principle of "innocent until proven guilty" but maintain it does not mean "electable until proven guilty."
(4) Jared Kushner is privy to the country's most important national-security secrets while having only an interim security clearance. He has not been given a full clearance yet. Given the just-released info about his contacts with WikiLeaks, there is a chance he will never be fully cleared for access to top-secret information.
(5) Seven brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Massive flash floods in Greece leave 15 dead: Several people are reported missing.
- Da Vinci painting auctioned for a record $450M: The last increase that led to the winning bid was $50M!
- Robot gymnastics: This Boston Dynamics robot does a backflip.
- What a concept! A president-to-be reading newspapers, rather than watching television. [Photo]
- Ahad Panahi's calligraphic rendering of a Rumi verse, reading "Kay shavad een ravaan-e man saaken?"
- Maybe Trump will succeed in draining the swamp, including the section of it that is him and his cabinet!
- Cartoon of the day: What the explorers were looking for. [By John Atkinson] [Image] [Image]
(6) Today's lecture on AI and computer security: Speaking under the title "AI and Computer Security: Lessons, Challenges, and Future Directions," Dr. Dawn Song, EECS Professor at UC Berkeley, discussed how AI can be used to improve or hurt computer security and how security techniques can be introduced into AI systems to make them less vulnerable to adversarial interference.
In the area of applying AI to the security domain, examples were provided of how deep learning can be used to spot security threats before they do damage to our systems, as well as how hackers can benefit from AI method to penetrate relatively secure systems that may not be vulnerable to established methods of attack. A case in point is the recent progress in the design of bots that can solve captcha codes.
In the reverse direction, many research teams have revealed the extreme vulnerability of deep learning methods to adversarial interference. One of the speaker's slides showed that when photographs of different individuals are compressed for storage economy and then decompressed before use, a knowledgeable adversary can modify the images slightly, in a way that is invisible to a human observer, so that the compression-decompression sequence always leads to the same targeted image, effectively defeating a face-recognition system. Dr. Song concluded by enumerating the many open problems that exist at the boundary between AI and computer security.
Even though I learned much from this talk, there were two aspects of it that bothered me. First, just as we have cheapened "A"s and "B"s at our universities through grade inflation, we have cheapened the designation "distinguished speaker/lecture" in recent years. Not every successful or prolific researcher is "distinguished," a designation, that, in my view, requires having been around the block a few times, so to speak, and being able to synthesize ideas from a broad range of disciplines.
Second, the speaker was very difficult to understand, given her accent, tone of voice, and fast speech. One of the greatest time/resource investments that young researchers can make in their careers is to take professional training courses in voice/speech and public speaking. Such an investment is particularly important for those who have to speak regularly in a language different from their primary one.

2017/11/16 (Thursday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Aerial view of Manhattan, 1951 British soldier on a horse in zebra camouflage, German East Africa during World War I Two million people gathered in NYC's Times Square on May 8, 1945, to celebrate the end of World War II (1) History in pictures: [Left] Aerial view of Manhattan, 1951. [Center] British soldier on a horse in zebra camouflage, German East Africa during World War I. [Right] Two million people gathered in NYC's Times Square on May 8, 1945, to celebrate the end of World War II.
(2) Dictators don't like social media: Among social media apps, the largest number of countries (12) have blocked WhatsApp and the largest number (27) have arrested Facebook users. [Source: E&T magazine, issue of November 2017]
(3) Some facts about the "Uranium One" deal, from Fox News. [Yes, that's Fox News, which I rarely use as a source, but here it might just stop conservatives from spewing their usual hatred against the Clintons.]
(4) Sign of the times: If you ever frequent this business, make sure to point out where your eyes are and stress that you want a RETINAL exam, just in case!
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Censored topics by country: A few (e.g., China and Iran) censor everything. Others are more selective.
- Kurdish women engaged in clean-up and reconstruction after the devastating magnitude-7.3 quake.
- Borowitz report: "Trump warns that dumping Roy Moore could start a dangerous trend of believing women."
- The Sound (and Visions) of Silence: Mesmerizing NASA footage, set to the Simon & Garfunkel song.
- Cartoon of the day: BRB note on Elon Musk's office door: "Gone to NY, back in 10 mins."
- The Chase Palm Park carousel will be leaving Santa Barbara in a couple of weeks; free rides on 12/2-3.
(6) A story from one year ago, today: Many fake-news posts of the past couple of years make more sense now, given what we have learned about the Russian meddling in our 2016 election. The year-old post begins thus: "Did you read the Denver Guardian story ... ," referring to a nonexistent newspaper.
(7) [Humor] Sharing what a neighbor wrote in a community newsletter: We Silver Surfers know that sometimes we have trouble with our computers. Yesterday I had a problem, so I called Georgie, the 11-year-old next door, whose bedroom looks like Mission Control, and asked him to come over. Georgie clicked a couple of buttons and solved the problem. As he was walking away, I called after him, "So, what was wrong?" He replied, "It was and ID ten T error." I didn't want to appear stupid, but nonetheless inquired, "An ID ten T error? What's that? In case I need to fix it again." Georgie grinned. "Haven't you ever heard of an ID ten T error before?" "No," I replied. "Write it down and I think you'll figure it out." So, I wrote it down: ID10T; I used to like Georgie.
(8) Attitudes are really changing: Singer Drake interrupted his concert to warn a man who was touching the women in the audience inappropriately. It is now everybody's business to stop sexual assaults.
(9) Today was my cleaning lady's last day. She is moving in a few days to be closer to her family members. She recruited a local friend to continue her work at my house. I will miss this very conscientious and hard-working woman. My daughter baked a blueberry bread/cake for her as one of the parting gifts. [Photos]

2017/11/15 (Wednesday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Mount Rushmore, as the carving project begins, ca. 1929 School playground equipment in the year 1900 Statue of Liberty, being constructed in France (1) History in pictures: [Left] Mount Rushmore, hland and Japan take positions 3 and 4 with entries that are not only a tad more powerful than the US's Titan (at #5), but also more energy-efficient. [Image]
(3) Russia's Ministry of Defense posts, then deletes, footage from a computer game as 'evidence' that the US is helping ISIS!
(4) Entertainment industry figures accused of sexual harassment: Most of the cases on this list are still at the accusation stage and no verdict is implied, but the list is useful as a way of seeing the extent of the problem.
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Trump better be careful in going after critics from prior administrations. There will be a next administration!
- Twelve lawyers are being hired to start the process of seizing land for Trump's border wall.
- The United States was one of 18 countries to have its elections influenced by foreign bots.
- Iranian poet Tahirih recognized as an early feminist and a role model for Western suffragette movements.
- Observation: We are no longer allowed or able to fix our electronic gadgets.
- Patent diagram from 1891 settles proper use of a toilet paper roll (no more fights about "over" or "under").
(6) Earthquake update: Reports from the magnitude-7.3 earthquake devastation in Iran's western province of Kermanshah continue to come in. Here is a video report from a village that suffered near-total destruction. No government aid has arrived there yet, according to the villagers. Here are more images of the destruction. And here is how to help the victims. Not many international relief organizations have a presence in, or are allowed to go to, the devastation zone, particularly the epicenter, Sar-Pol Zahab. Moms Against Poverty (MAP) is a reputable organization that can help, and much help is needed according to pleas for help coming from the region. Amid the sad news, there are also glimmers of hope: Kianoush Rostami, Iran's Olympic weightlifting champion, is auctioning off his gold medal to raise money for earthquake relief efforts.
(7) Concert at the Music Bowl: UCSB Gamelan Ensemble performed at noon today. I don't much care for Gamelan music, which comes primarily from Indonesia, but the kinds of instruments used (mostly percussion) and the intricate playing techniques fascinate me. [Photos] Almost all Gamelan music pieces are soft and dreamy, with this dance tune being a rare exception. [Fun fact: More Muslims live in Indonesia than in the entire Middle East combined.] Taking the library shortcut on the way from the Music Bowl to my office, I was asked by a young lady attending a desk in the lobby whether I wanted to share on a special display my thoughts about what I am thankful for. So, I wrote something on a brown leaf. If you know me well, you may be able to spot my leaf in this photo, either from the content or from the handwriting.

2017/11/14 (Tuesday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
R2D2 and C3PO visit Big Bird on Sesame Street, 1970s Colorized photo of Captain Walter Young and his crew in front of their caricatures on their B-29 Superfortress, 1944 The first color photograph of the Sphinx and the Pyramid of Giza, 1913 (1) History in pictures: [Left] R2D2 and C3PO visit Big Bird on Sesame Street, 1970s. [Center] Colorized photo of Captain Walter Young and his crew in front of their caricatures on their B-29 Superfortress, 1944. [Right] The first color photograph of the Sphinx and the Pyramid of Giza, 1913.
(2) Today is "National Run-for-Office Day": Make a difference by running for a local or national office. Run for dog-catcher, if you must. Anything will do. Just act!
(3) At least four people and the gunman are dead after shootings in multiple locations, including an elementary school, in Northern California's Tehama County, according to the Assistant Sheriff. [Hush, don't talk about gun control; this isn't the time!]
(4) One-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Report on Iran's 7.3 earthquake, showing widespread destruction, including major cracks in a dam.
- John McCain tweet: "Human rights obviously not a priority in @POTUS's meeting with Dutert—again, sad."
- Jeff Sessions is either lying or has a very poor memory. Either way, he is unfit to serve as a cabinet member.
- Bill Gates invests $50 million to start a wide-ranging battle against dementia.
- Universities oppose the GOP tax plan over its adverse effects on endowments and student loans.
- Broadcom's new GPS chip will bring a resolution of 30 cm to smartphones in 2018.
- Selfie with Hitler: A museum in Indonesia removes Hitler's wax figure in front of Auschwitz after backlash.
- TSA agent risks his life to remove a smoking backpack from an airport security-check area.
- An antique car I encountered on the street during my afternoon walk. [Photo]
- Comic strip of the day: includes several spot-on observations. ["The Modern World"]
- Remnants of 260M-year-old forest discovered in Antarctica: The trees lived before dinosaurs.
- These "Flying Pencils" were installed on the UCSB campus by Peter Logan in 1986.
(5) Cartoon of the day: "... there won't be any dividends this quarter due to increased operating expenses ... we have to buy a whole new bunch of Congressmen ..." [Image]
(6) Iranian earthquake: Kurdish women use their resilience and improvisation talents to make up for shortage of tents to weather chilly nights outside their earthquake-damaged homes near Kermanshah. [Photo]
(7) Inverted priorities: Anti-riot forces arrive in some western Iran earthquake areas before search-and-rescue groups. Foreign reporters are banned from the region. [Photos of the devastation]
(8) Pacific Views, UCSB Library Speaker Series: Professor Yasamin Mostofi (UCSB Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering) spoke this afternoon under the title "Robotics Meets Wireless Communications: Opportunities and Challenges." These photos show some of the speaker's slides, as well as sweeping views of the campus and Pacific Ocean from the 8th-floor venue at the campus library (the Pacific Views Room). Professor Mostofi outlined her recent NSF-supported research that uses a combination of drones or other robotic vehicles and wi-fi to solve various practical problems, such as seeing beyond/around walls or counting human occupants in a particular environment. These problems are solvable with radar, but use of wi-fi constitutes a more cost-effective and broadly-accessible method. Radar can provide both directional and distance information, but wi-fi supplies only the signal strength as the sole clue, thus requiring sophisticated signal-processing techniques to deduce the information of interest. [Professor Mostofi's Web page]

2017/11/13 (Monday): Here are four items of potential interest.
A veteran and his son gaze at the Golden Gate Bridge from the shoreline of the nearby San Francisco VA Medical Center, 1943 Children cross the river using pulleys on their way to school in the outskirts of Modena, Italy, 1959 A group of immigrants traveling aboard a ship celebrate as they catch their first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty, 1910 (1) History in pictures: [Left] A veteran and his son gaze at the Golden Gate Bridge from the shoreline of the nearby San Francisco VA Medical Center, 1943. [Center] Children cross the river using pulleys on their way to school in the outskirts of Modena, Italy, 1959. [Right] A group of immigrants traveling aboard a ship celebrate as they catch their first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty, 1910.
(2) The Utah teapot: This image is the result of a 3D graphical model created by Martin Newel for his PhD thesis in the mid-1970s. The model, which made appearances in several well-known animated films and earned the moniker of "World's Most Famous Teapot" foretold of mind-boggling advances in computer graphics. [Image credit: IEEE Spectrum magazine, issue of November 2017]
(3) One-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Magnitude-7.3 earthquake kills at least 300 in the Iran-Iraq border area.
- Message from Kermanshah, Iran: "We don't need condolences, we need help." [Photo]
- Donald Trump Jr. was in contact with WikiLeaks for months, requesting info and suggesting leak ideas.
- Trump believes Putin's election meddling denials but disbelieves US intelligence that indicates otherwise!
- Mass approval of Trump-branded businesses in China raises questions about conflict of interest.
- Random thought for the day: Now, no one can say that Trump didn't go to Vietnam!
- Viola Brand: German champion of artistic cycling, a combination of bicycling, gymnastics and ballet.
- Condensation-trail of a plane flying below high cirrus clouds, with a low Sun casting an upward shadow.
- Persian poetry: I spent some time on Saturday, browsing a book of poems by Parvin Etesami. [Samples]
- Percent of college graduates in STEM fields that are women, by country. [Chart]
- Cartoon of the day: Is anything real if there's no record of it on social media? [Image]
- Wow, the sun is already down at 4:45 this afternoon! [Photos]
Cover image for 'Option B,' by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant (4) Book review: Sandberg, Sheryl and Adam Grant, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, unabridged audiobook on 5 CDs, read by Elisa Donovan, Random House Audio, 2017.
[My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg emerged as a champion of women's empowerment with her best-selling book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. This new book by Sandberg and her co-author, a Wharton professor, relates what she learned about loss and ways of coping with it, after the sudden death of her husband of 11 years David Goldberg in a freak exercise accident at a hotel gym. Her task was made more difficult by the fact that she had to help her two children cope with the loss as well.
The thesis of the book is that our resilience isn't finite, but resembles a muscle that we can strengthen, regardless of how much it has already been used. Sandberg's personal experience and Grant's research provide coping mechanisms and practical strategies to bounce back and find joy. The strength to cope comes in part from our built-in mechanisms and partly from external support.
In a way, there isn't much new in this book. Humans have evolved to cope with loss and adversity, and there are many people around the world who have coped and are coping with even greater losses. Yet, each personal story provides a new angle and fresh ammunition to attack our sense of loss and disappointment. The fresh angle in Sandberg's story is her ability to cope, while engaged in a fast-moving and high-pressure business environment in Silicon Valley.
A key piece of advice that stuck in my mind is that each person should try to recover at his/her own comfortable pace, that is, one should not rush it. A second take-away is not to feel guilt for seeking and finding joy after the loss.
The Option-B Web site provides a community for those struggling with loss or adversity. There is also an affiliated Facebook page for coping with grief.

2017/11/12 (Sunday): Here are five items of potential interest.
Wonderful example of Persian calligraphic art (1) Wonderful example of Persian calligraphic art: The artist's name is inscribed on the bottom left, but I can't quite make it out.
(2) "International Relations," a comedy in many acts: Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me "old," when I would NEVER call him "short and fat?" Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend - and maybe someday that will happen! [Donald Trump tweet from Vietnam]
(4) Tonight, I attended a musical program entitled "Montage 2017" at the Trinity Episcopal Church, downtown Santa Barbara, in which UCSB's Department of Music showcased the talent of its faculty members and students. Following are some videos from the program.
["The Speaking Drums," performed by Shashank Aswath on tabla] [Performance by Petra Persolja of "Venezia e Napoli: Tarantella" (Franz Liszt) on piano] [Arabian music, performed by Sam Khattar, voice/oud, Scott Marcus, Ney, Sue Rudnicki, tabla, and Solmaz Soleimani, violin] ["Trio in A minor, Op 114: Allegro" (Johannes Brahms), performed by Jonathan Moerschel, viola, Jennifer Kloetzel, cello, and Robert Koenig, piano] [Traditional Iranian music on santoor by Bahram Osqueezadeh]
(3) Trump takes back his comment that he believes Putin's words over the assessment of US intelligence agencies: Like the taking back of his Charlottesville comments, someone has told him that he made a boo-boo and, again, he took back his words in a way that was obviously half-hearted. He did not say that he trusted US intelligence agencies, only the leaders he has installed there. One of those leaders, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, has explicitly accepted the intelligence assessment that Russia meddled in the US election.
(5) Introduction to Neuroeconomics: How the Brain Makes Decisions (weeks 6-7):
Having reported on the overall course structure and my experience in weeks 1-3 through my 10/24 post and weeks 4-5 on 10/29, I briefly describe the contents of the next two weeks here. There are 9 weeks in all, so I will offer one last post for the final two weeks.
[Week 6] Dual process theory of decision-making: Toward a neuroeconomics perspective
a. Dual process theory (Valuation system at a glance; Dual process theory and neuroeconomics) Real values are subjective; when different outcomes are possible with corresponding probabilities, a weighted sum is used to derive the expected value for comparisons and eventual decision-making. Emotions play an important role in decision-making through affecting our valuations and probability estimates. Decisions are intuitive (system 1: emotional, heuristic-based, fast, parallel, effortless) or rational (system 2: neutral, rule-governed, slow, serial, effortful). Ironically, for complex decisions, system 1 yields better results.
b. The role of DLPFC in self-control (Modulation of the value signal by the DLPFC; Self-regulation & DLPFC)
Brain activity pattern is substantially different for self-controllers (who reject tasty, unhealthy food) versus non-self-controllers. Decisions do not always follow self-interest (as economics would predict) but also consider fairness. Experiments in which one person is given a sum of money, which s/he splits in two parts, offering one of them to a second person. If the second person rejects the offer, neither one gets any money. The second person typically rejects small offers of less than 20%, despite losing money as a result. The average acceptable offer, across many different culutres, is around 40-50%. Anterior insula (area involved in negative emotions and disgust) is activated when there is an unfair offer. System 1 (emotional) is particularly sensitive to immediate rewards and tends to severely discount delayed rewards, whereas system 2 (rational) is better at weighing delayed versus immediate rewards.
c. Guest lecture by Samuel McClure (Dual or single; expert opinion)
Arguments in favor of dual process theory vs. single decision-making process using various subsystems.
[Week 7] Decision-making under risk: Toward a neuroeconomic mechanism
a. Risk and the anticipatory affect model (Risk as uncertainty of the outcome; Anticipatory affect model)
The term "risk" is used when the probabilities of various outcomes are known; otherwise, we have ambiguity. Through repeated sampling and learning, one can gradually turn ambiguity into risk. Risk is highest when the probability is around 0.5 (very low probabilities or near-certainty entails less risk). In risk-return models, the valuation is reduced by b times the risk, where b is the index of risk aversion.
b. Risk aversion (Neuroeconomics of risk aversion; "Decision weights," framing effect and prospect theory)
Humans and other animals are generally risk-averse. They might choose a smaller reward that is certain over an uncertain reward with a larger expected value. Nucleus accumbens when activated leads to more openness to risk. Prospect theory suggests that both probability estimations and valuations are non-linear. We tend to overestimate small probabililties and underestimate large probabilities. Also, we underestimate gains (leading to joy) and overestimate losses (pain). One way to measure risk aversion is via the "certainty equivalent" measure. If you choose a $30 certain reward over an expected reward of $50 ($0 or $100, with equal probabilities, say), you are more risk-averse than someone who would require $45 to choose the certain outcome under the same conditions.
c. Guest lecture by Brian Knutson (The nucleus accumbens: Rewards and risks)
Rewards prediction totally unrelated to the choice at hand (e.g., seeing arousing photos) can push someone to more risk-taking. Conversely, negative stimulation can trigger greater risk aversion. Another example is sunny versus rainy weather or running into someone you like/hate affecting decisions.

2017/11/11 (Saturday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Young couples dancing, 1950 French actors Alain Delon and Brigitte Bardot, 1968 Young couple at a drive-in theater, 1961 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Young couples dancing, 1950. [Center] French actors Alain Delon and Brigitte Bardot, 1968. [Right] Young couple at a drive-in theater, 1961.
(2) Happy Veterans' Day! This ageless quote is appropriate for today, when we honor soldiers and veterans, who make sacrifices in fighting wars, while generals and politicians are remembered in historical records as heroes: "In war the heroes always outnumber the soldiers ten to one." ~ H. L. Mencken
(3) Saudi Arabia's transition of power from Alzheimer's-afflicted 80-somethings to a brash, inexperienced prince is worrisome: With 70% of the Saudis under age 30 and 25% unemployed, the snail-paced reforms of the past no longer cut it, but one corrupt prince (who once impulsively bought a $550M yacht from a Russian) arresting 7 others for corruption is like Donald Trump suddenly firing seven cabinet secretaries for lying, as observed by NYT's Thomas Friedman.
(4) Political humor: Saudi princes accused of corruption are imprisoned at Ritz-Carlton Hotel. They are told to behave, or else they will be transferred to Marriott! [Video]
(5) Ten brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Trump blames previous US administrations for what a year ago he called "China raping our country"!
- The wealthiest 3 Americans (Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffet) hold more wealth then the bottom 50%.
- Mass shootings aren't about mental illness, but about easy access to killing machines. [Image]
- Fascinating discovery of how a fungal parasite takes over an ant's body, turning it into a zombie ant.
- Clearest-ever 3D images of neurons firing in the brain recorded, using laser technology.
- From the "corporations are people" bunch: Their new tax plan says that corporations are above people!
- Disney rejection letter to a woman job applicant, 1938. [Note: I'm uncertain about the letter's veracity.]
- Someone's excited to be singing in the choir: Good thing she is standing on the side! [Video]
- Cartoon of the day: Special section for mass-shooting condolence cards in your favorite store. [Image]
- A selfless teacher helps little students on their way to school across a stream in a rural part of Iran.
(6) An indictment for Mike Flynn now seems likely: He and his son were reportedly offered millions to help remove from the US a Muslim cleric wanted by Turkey.
(7) Information exchange via shoelaces: During the Cold War, CIA agents used a method of communication based on how their shoelaces were tied. [Image]
(8) China is expanding its global reach: By investing in road and rail networks, along with ports and other transportation infrastructures, China is connecting itself to the world and increasing its international influence. [Image credit: Time magazine, issue of November 13, 2017]
(9) The floodgate of sexual misconduct allegations has opened: It seems that the downfall of several very powerful men (and in very few cases, women) in various domains has emboldened victims to step out of the shadows. Sure, there may be false allegations mixed in with valid ones, but even if we unrealistically estimate that half of the accusations are false, we still have a serious social problem to contend with. The despicable behavior of the men accused of improper sexual conduct will no doubt lead to a welcome behavioral change. Initially, the change will be fear-based, in the sense of men not wanting to get in trouble with their families or to compromise their careers. But, over time, with the new generation being raised to be aware of issues related to sexual aggression and abuse of power, the behavioral change will be internalized as part of a cultural shift. A worrisome part of the new revelations is that some Republicans/conservatives dismiss them as politically motivated or, worse, say that nothing is wrong with predatory sexual behavior (some going as far as citing the Bible about sexual relations with minors being okay).

2017/11/10 (Friday): Report on yesterday afternoon's panel discussion entitled "Is There Any Good News About Fake News?" at UCSB's Mosher Alumni House: [This report is subject to updates and corrections]
Photos from panel discussion entitled 'Is There Any Good News About Fake News?' A standing-room-only audience heard the views of four panelists, joined by panel organizers/moderators, Professors Cynthia Stohl and Bruce Bimber, the current and founding Directors of the UCSB Center for Information Technology and Society. Seated from left to right in the accompanying photo (the moderators are on the far right and Leila J. Rupp, UCSB's Interim Dean of Social Sciences, opening the session, stands on the far left) are:
- Yochai Benkler, Prof. Entrepreneurial Legal Studies, Harvard Law School; Co-Dir. Berkman-Klein Ctr. for Internet and Society
- Maggie Farley, Creator of "Factitious," a game that tests users' skill in detecting fake news; formerly of the LA Times
- Eugene Kiely, Dir.; formerly of USA Today and Philadelphia Inquirer
- Miriam Metzger, Prof. Communication, UCSB; Dir. Information and Society PhD Emphasis
The short answer is "yes." We have become accustomed to exercising caution in accepting opinions about medical treatments (hence, the prevalence of seeking second opinions) or how to plan our finances. Yet, until last year, we routinely trusted any news that came to us from news organizations whose names were even vaguely familiar.
Stohl began the proceedings by outlining how the panel, and the day-long gathering of researchers, of which the public panel was a part, came about, naming and thanking all those who played a part in making the event a reality. She also set the stage for presentations by the four panelists and the Q&A segment that followed.
Benklar showed a number of slides visualizing, in the form of large graphs, the results of studies on how news sources link to one another and the impact of fake news on the linking structure. One interesting observation is that fake-news sources, far from being isolated bad actors, influence how other sources cover the news (e.g., by running stories refuting the fake news items). His "good news" was the fact that we are making progress in understanding fake news from a scientific perspective.
Farley spoke about her efforts, through designing the Tinder-like game "Factitious" (where you swipe left or right to indicate whether you consider a story fake news), in the area of educating the public on how to recognize fake news. Among the results of her study are the fact that the source of a news story has a singularly important effect on whether we believe it and that many people share news stories having read only the headline, thus making the wording of the headline very important.
Kiely mentioned that even though the public has only recently become interested in fact-checking, foresaw the importance of checking the veracity of news stories since its inception in 2007 and was very active throughout the onslaught of fake news during Obama years. The good news is that social media have begun cooperating with fact-checking organizations to flag suspicious stories as "Disputed." Another piece of good news is a collaboratively prepared list of fake news sources.
Metzger had more good news than the other panelists, some of them selfish (such as her long-term area of research on credibility having been validated) and the spread and deepening of our knowledge about the role played by social-media companies, how people process information, and the nature of journalism. Other benefits include greater collaboration between fact-checking organizations and the entry of researchers from various disciplines into the field.
Bimber asked two questions to begin the Q&A segment of the panel.
Q1: Of the disciplines tackling the fake-news problem, which one is the most-likely source of possible solutions?
Q2: Given cognitive limits, are citizens up to the task of sorting out so much information and disinformation?
As expected, the two questions elicited a variety of reactions from the panel. We humans have developed heuristics to simplify the task of processing vast amounts of information, and resorting to tribalism and trusting a small number of sources (friends, people with the same mindset) are our ways of reducing the effort. Of course, going to the other extreme of being skeptical about everything is not helpful, so we need to work on a happy medium. Another difficulty related to human cognition is that, even after we are shown (with incontrovertible proof) that something is false, the false information is solidified in our mind with repetition.
An audience member asked whether our focus on fake news in the context of modern US politics is too short-sighted, elaborating that we should seek to learn about the problem in historical and geographic contexts (how our ancestors and other countries have dealt with the problem). It turns out that France as well as 11 US states mandate media literacy programs that produce more informed citizens in the area of consuming news. In Germany, the strength of public broadcasting prevents fake news stories from gaining a foothold. In the UK, BBC serves the same function.
I end my report with two related anecdotes. Today, on NPR (hope it's not fake news!), I heard a story about how the Chinese government is setting up a system that assigns a "social score" to each citizen based on his/her activities, purchases, social-media interactions, and so on, in a manner similar to the credit score in the US. Presumably, the social score can then be used to judge people's trustworthiness. Most of us realize that this is a very dangerous scheme, but, ironically, the Chinese consider this "transparent" system an improvement over secret data-gathering on individuals by the Communist Party! The second anecdote is about the book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do (by Charles Duhigg) which helps explain why we process information the way we do. I am listening to the audiobook version of the title now and will review it in the near future.

2017/11/09 (Thursday): Here are six items of potential interest.
The American soldier behind an iconic kiss photo The nurse behind that same iconic kiss photo Iconic movie kiss from 'Breakfast at Tiffany's.' (1) History in pictures: [Left] The American soldier behind an iconic kiss photo. [Center] The nurse behind that same iconic kiss photo. [Right] Iconic movie kiss from "Breakfast at Tiffany's," 1961.
(2) Grad students will be hurt by the GOP tax plan: Most live based on a stipend/salary of ~$20-30K, along with tuition waivers. The waivers will be taxed as income in the new plan, reducing their net incomes.
(3) Russia undergoes a history war in parallel with the US: At issue is how to handle Lenin's corpse, as the country celebrates halfheartedly, the 100th anniversary of its October Revolution in November.
(4) Tweet of the day, by Erica Buist (I couldn't have said it better): "Why not just ban guns and when people are upset about it, just send them thoughts and prayers? If 'thoughts and prayers' are good enough for people who've lost their families then [they're] good enough for people who've lost their guns."
(5) Ten brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Governor Brown appoints an Iranian-American woman to the Superior Court of Santa Clara County.
- Volkswagen and Google expand their quantum-computing research partnership.
- Exceptionalism: Syria to join the Paris Climate Agreement, leaving the US as the only country opposing it.
- California, the EU, and China to create a common carbon market to fight climate change.
- Santa Barbara, CA, just elected its 5th female mayor in a row: Ads against Cathy Murillo were super-nasty.
- This Cayman Islands building is home to 20,000 tax-dodging corporations, according to Bernie Sanders.
- UCSB is hiring two tenure-track assistant professors in computer engineering.
- Just-elected NJ and VA governors are utterly unqualified: Neither one has any reality-show experience!
- Santa Barbara's current sales-tax rate of 7.75% will increase by 1% on April 1, 2018.
- The White House blames losing Republican candidates for not fully embracing the Trump agenda.
(6) Interesting facts from a sexual harassment training course I completed as part of the University of California requirements for senior staff with supervisory responsibilities: Of stalkers pursuing victims, 42% are acquaintances, 28% are current/former partners, 9% are strangers (in the remaining cases, the victim did not know or could not identify the stalker).
(7) Historian and presidential biographer John Meacham speaking on Trump: Meacham's American Lion, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning biography of Andrew Jackson, has been chosen for Santa Barbara Public Library's Book Club discussion ahead of Meacham's visit to give a lecture at UCSB's Campbell Hall on November 16, 2017.
(8) An effective "Facts First" ad by CNN: Showing an apple, the narrator indicates that some would like you to believe this is a banana through screaming "banana" over and over again or putting "BANANA" in all-caps. But this is an apple.
(9) Final thought for the day: Republican candidates realize that they are in a lose-lose situation. Get too close to Trump and you are doomed, given his overall approval rating of around 35%. Keep your distance, and you are doomed, particularly in primaries, given his approval rating of a tad over 80% among Republicans.

2017/11/08 (Wednesday): Here are Seven items of potential interest.
Pele's famous bicycle kick at Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, 1965 Alfred Hitchcock seeking inspiration in the river Thames, 1960s Albert Einsteins Princeton office exactly as he left it upon his death on April 18th, 1955 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Pele's famous bicycle kick at Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, 1965. [Center] Alfred Hitchcock seeking inspiration in the river Thames, 1960s. [Right] Albert Einstein's Princeton office exactly as he left it upon his death on April 18th, 1955.
(2) When it comes to sexual harassment, scientists and technologists are no different from others: "As with just about any area of human endeavor where men hold the lion's share of power, the world of science and technology is plagued by sexual harassment. Women in STEM fields have long known this, of course. But just as in Hollywood, where the predatory behavior of producer Harvey Weinstein was long whispered about but never discussed openly, the phenomenon of professors and researchers hitting on undergrads, grad students, postdocs and colleagues has mostly been hushed up—not only by victims fearing retaliation but also by institutions determined to keep their good name untarnished and their superstars happy."
(3) Quote of the day: "[Build] your cars in the United States instead of shipping them over." ~ Trump in Japan, apparently unaware that for years, Japan has built more cars in the US than the Big Three US auto makers.
(4) Tweet of the day: "I hope Donald doesn't use his 280 characters to subject us to twice as many daily lies, rants and spelling errors." ~ George Takei
(5) Ten brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- "I never knew we had so many countries." ~ Trump in Japan, on world leaders calling him after the election
- "I'm sure I could have built it for a lot less." ~ Trump, on the $11B expansion of US's base in South Korea
- Corruption probe in Saudi Arabia leads to arrests of several members of the Royal Family.
- Why is the Saudi coup "bold reform," whereas such mass arrests in any other country is condemned?
- Speaking from Saudi Arabia, Lebanon's PM Hariri resigned, citing assassination threats and blaming Iran.
- Khamenei rearing to start a war: Missile attack on Saudi Arabia by Yemen's Houthis masterminded by Iran.
- Putin praised by another dictator, Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei, during trilateral talks in Tehran, with Azerbaijan.
- Harvey Weinstein hired spies to dig dirt on his sexual-harassment accusers and to intimidate them.
- The Borowitz Report (humor): Trump accomplishing little in final year as President, poll indicates.
- Some of the Americans just elected may cause nightmares for misogynists and White Supremacists.
(6) Today's noon mini-concert: UCSB Middle East Ensemble (about 1/3 of the members) performed at UCSB's Music Bowl. The one-hour program included an early-20th-century Armenian Song, a Greek dance tune, which was quite popular in Iran way back when, a Lebanese song, in the original form and the Persian version, and an Arabic dance tune, with its slow portion, featurng Scott Marcus, the Ensemble's Director, on the ney, recorded separately.
(7) Walking along the UCSB campus bluffs, on my way to a meeting this afternoon: On gorgeous days like this, looking on the natural beauty of the campus and its surroundings, I ask myself how I got so lucky to end up here 29 years ago. The Santa Barbara Channel Islands and a lone paddle-boarder are seen in two of the photos each. Later in the afternoon, I recorded this 360-degree view of the south end of the UCSB campus, featuring a student crew team practicing on the Lagoon.

2017/11/07 (Tuesday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Top of the Eiffel Tower, Paris, 1937 Fixing the antenna atop the Empire State Building, 1950 Man waling on a tightrope between the tops of NYC's Twin Towers (1) History in pictures: [Left] Top of the Eiffel Tower, Paris, 1937. [Center] Fixing the antenna atop the Empire State Building, 1950. [Right] Man waling on a tightrope between the tops of NYC's Twin Towers.
(2) The sad story of an immigrant family: A child prodigy of Greek origins, who learned to write at 2 and began taking college courses at 7, is stifled in developing her enormous potential by poverty, bullying, misogyny, and the sick obsession of a man in his late seventies. This powerful and expertly-written true story about the gifted Promethea (nee Jasmine) is quite long, but well worth reading. [Partial translation in Persian]
(3) Quote of the day: "Tonight, as my colleagues go to sleep, they need to think about whether the political support of the gun industry is worth the blood that flows endlessly onto the floors of American churches, elementary schools, movie theaters, and city streets. They need to ask themselves whether they can claim to respect human life while choosing fealty to weapons-makers over support for measures favored by the vast majority of their constituents. My heart aches for Sutherland Springs. Just like it still does for Las Vegas. And Orlando. And Charleston. And Aurora. And Blacksburg. And Newtown. Just like it does every night for Chicago. And Bridgeport. And Baltimore. Now is the time for Congress to overcome its cowardice and do something." ~ US Senator Chris Murphy, Connecticut
(4) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Election day 2017: Governorship and congressional races may indicate how the midterrn elections might go.
- All the President's men: "The Shady Bunch" (song of the week)
- ISIS leaders defend the Second Amendment and oppose gun control; they need fewer terrorists this way!
- Photo of the day: The Moon and the volcano. [Photo]
- Reposting from four years ago: Old saying: Think before you speak. New saying: Google before you post.
- Experts believe that a newly unveiled charcoal drawing is an early draft of da Vinci's "Mona Lisa."
(5) The Borowitz Report: "White House claims Flynn's job was to make coffee when Papadopoulos was busy. ... [Sarah Huckabee] Sanders said that, in the weeks to come, the White House is likely to release the names of additional campaign staffers whose roles were limited to the preparation of coffee beverages, and that such names might include Jared Kushner and Donald Trump, Jr."
(6) Gendered expectations hold women7back: Writing under the title "I'm Your Mentor, Not Your Mother" in Science, Larisa R. G. DeSantis complains about the expectations that female academic mentors be motherly.

2017/11/06 (Monday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Mouth-watering snacks & exotic fruits, offered by street vendors in Iran (1) Mouth-watering snacks & exotic fruits, offered by street vendors in Iran: [Top, left to right] Fresh almonds; Green plums; Fresh walnuts; Boiled fava beans; Loquat ("Azguil"); White mulberries ("toot") [Bottom] Fresh pistachios; Mayhow ("Zalzalak"); Broiled corn; Baked beets; Sour cherries; dogwood fruit ("Zoghal-akhteh")
(2) Political debate in Iran: Sadegh Zibakalam argues passionately against having a cleric as Supreme Leader, who isn't accountable to anyone. Only Zibakalam's side of the debate is compiled in this video (in Persian), but it is hard to imagine any reasonable defense of an absolute dictator, who does not even abide by the country's constitution that he helped enact.
Zibakalam's arguments in this and other settings are solid and very logically constructed. I like his positions, but there is a nagging doubt in the back of my mind about why people with much milder criticisms of the Islamic regime are sentenced to long prison terms, while he is free and allowed to speak in public forums.
(3) Sexual harassment in Iran (#MeToo): Employment ads for secretarial work openly and unabashedly specify that they seek young single women only. Privately, they also add "pretty" to the list of qualifications.
(4) Eight brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- First 3 "witches" netted in Robert Mueller's "witch hunt": Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, George Papadopoulos.
- Netflix cancels the hit series "House of Cards" and fires its star Kevin Spacey over sexual misconduct.
- Trump repeats the tired line that the Texas mass murder was a mental health problem, not a gun problem!
- "Thoughts and prayers" are useless, even if you are someone who actually thinks and prays! [Image]
- Massive leak reveals new ties between Trump administration officials and Russian entities.
- Cartoon of the day: The NRA flag flying high, while the US flag is at half mast. [Image]
- Sharing to raise awareness of the Toranj app, which may help Iranian women facing domestic abuse.
- Today's views of UCSB Lagoon, under the clouds and with a seasonably cool breeze. And a panorama.
(5) I wonder whether Trump still believes in something he has stated on at least 13 different occasions: "Anyone being investigated by the FBI is not qualified to be the president of the United States."
(6) An interview with the editor of The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: Dr. Bandy X. Lee, who began a movement, later joined by thousands of psychologists, maintains that her duty to warn the public in the face of imminent danger takes precedence over the ethics of refraining from discussing the mental conditions of someone not directly examined.
(7) Decades of progress in race relations going down the drain: Appalling racism on display at a Wisconsin football game by "fine people" (Trump's words), one dressed as Obama with a noose around his neck, being pulled by another dressed as Trump. Equally telling is the fact that the duo were not ejected from the game.
(8) Don't send prayers to the Texas mass-shooting victims (which left at least 27 dead): They had plenty of prayers, as they were shot in a church. Send them financial help and ideas about gun-control legislation.

Cover image for Mary Roach's 'Packing for Mars' 2017/11/05 (Sunday): Book review: Roach, Mary, Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, unabridged audiobook on 9 CDs, read by Sandra Burr, Brilliance Audio, 2010.
[My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
The back-of-the-CD-box blurb aptly summarizes the main points of Roach's book. It reads in part: "Space is a world devoid of things we need to live and thrive: air, gravity, hot showers, fresh produce, privacy, beer. Space exploration is in some ways an exploration of what it means to be human. How much can a person give up? How much weirdness can they take? What happens to you when you can't walk for a year? have sex? smell flowers? What happens if you vomit in your helmet during a space walk? Is it possible for the human body to survive a bailout at 17,000 miles per hour?"
NASA tries to answer these questions for would-be astronauts, before they ever set foot in space. Some fail quickly and miserably, others can tolerate much discomfort, motivated by the allure of being one of the few human beings to travel in space. Under the very difficult conditions of sensory deprivation, isolation, lack of privacy, claustrophobic living quarters, and the like, it is quite easy for human beings to snap. For example, Russian male astraonauts have been reported as becoming sexually aggressive towards female co-workers, reflecting their culture's attitude towards women, which they could not suppress under extreme pressure. Japanese astronauts seem to be ideal candidates, in view of their culture's expectation of self-scarifice and respect for authority.
Roach describes many experimental set-ups used to train and acclimate astronauts for their eventual space missions and the cut-throat competition between many candidates for the few actual space-flight spots available. True to form, she also divulges a lot of interesting details about the challenges of life in space and interesting tidbits one would not know, if one were just looking at NASA's space programs from the outside. Here are a few examples.
a. Motion sickness isn't really a sickness but a natural condition. Even fish experience it, as confirmed by a group of fish, tank-raised and later transported by boat, emptying their stomachs into their tank. It may be the unfortunate result of an evolutionary accident that placed the control centers for motion-sensing and stomach cleansing next to each other, leading to the possibility of cross-talk between them.
b. Beached whales often die from gravity before lack of water gets them, because their skeletal structures are incapable of supporting their weight, absent the help they get from buoyancy. In many situations, gravity can be the real enemy. Gravity can also be a great help. The difficulty of having sex in zero- or low-gravity environment has been studied and confirmed by placing seals in a pool and observing them struggle to mate.
c. Opening to a space shuttle toilet is 4 inches across, compared with 18 inches in ordinary toilets. Alignment is challenging in the absence of sensory feedback from the seat in zero gravity. So, astronauts must be potty-trained. The relationship between diet and the stool type and consistency is rigorously studied, as it affects the frequency and ease of doing #2 in space. Pre-launch diet is particularly important, in view of 8 hours or more of waiting on the launch pad, with no possibility to going to the toilet.
d. For long-distance space missions, such as going to Mars, mice are the most efficient source of protein to take along, in terms of the amount of nutrition they provide per unit weight. Eating soiled clothing, that must be discarded due to the impossibility of washing them, has also been explored. Research on digestable and nutritional clothing material holds much promise for solving the problem of the enormous payload needed for travel to Mars.
The four examples above are just a few of the interesting ones. To learn more about these examples and/or to pursue many other examples of the enormous challenges of space travel, Roach's book is your best bet.

2017/11/04 (Saturday): Here are five items of potential interest.
Lady Liberty, as seen from the torch, now closed to visitors Future NYC, as imagined in the early 1900s Navajo young man, photographed by Carl E. Moon, 1906 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Lady Liberty, as seen from the torch, now closed to visitors. [Center] Future NYC, as imagined in the early 1900s. [Right] Navajo young man, photographed by Carl E. Moon, 1906.
(2) The GOP tax plan is smoke and mirrors: Not all middle-class families will see a tax cut, particularly those who live in states with expensive housing and/or high local tax rates. Even those who will see a modest immediate cut, will end up paying more, when the 5-year temporary cuts expire. Corporate tax reduction from 35% to 20% and repeal of estate tax are permanent though. Current deductions on mortgage and student-loan interests will be taken away. So, this is a tax cut plan for corporations and the super-rich, financed with increased deficit spending and sugar-coated with temporary cuts for a subset of other taxpayers. Some refer to the plan as the "Trojan-Horse tax cut." [Based on a panel discussion on the PBS program "Washington Week"]
(3) Sharing a comment I made on a friend's Facebook post of a passionate attack on the GOP tax plan by Elizabeth Warren: Warren's ideas are great, but unfortunately, given the current political climate, they are somewhat toxic when described by the right as socialistic. This label turns off all of Trump's base, plus a sufficient number of Clinton supporters to make her doomed in a general election. I think Warren (68), Sanders (76), and Pelosi (77) should move to the sidelines and support some young, energetic, middle-of-the-road Democrat in 2020.
(4) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Purported "Mossad agent" sentenced to death without a trial in Iran.
- Government crackdown on Iranian journalists continues: Reformist journalists receive jail sentences.
- Iran bans BBC Persian Service, harasses its journalists, and freezes their families' assets.
- AG Jeff Sessions continues to be belittled and pressured by Trump to do things he deems inappropriate.
- [Message to US Congress] Make America Great Again: Impeach Trump!
- [Signs held by protesters in Hawaii to greet Trump] "Welcome to Kenya" | "I'm Not Orange, Impeach"
Cover image of the audiobook 'Earth' by The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (5) Book review: Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Earth: A Visitor's Guide to the Human Race, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Jon Stewart et al., Hachette Audio, 2010. [My 4-star review on GoodReads]
The expansion of scope from Stewart's earlier book, America, to Earth in this book, may suggest that some future book of his will be titled Galaxy and then, perhaps, Universe! As expected, there is a great deal of smart writing in the book, but there's also filler material to expand the main ideas (barely) into a book-length presentation.
The book's premise is that humans, realizing that they will soon vanish from the face of Earth, start writing down some answers to questions that the eventual alien visitors might have about us and our habitat, when they arrive. The print version of the book apparently has many color photographs, graphs, and charts.
Much of the book follows the format of a dictionary or glossary, with typical entries being of the following kinds (example entries are abbreviated and paraphrased).
RELIGION: We are the only species that realizes life does not last forever. This leaves us two options. (a) Find comfort in life as a transitory and purposeless side show. (b) Find comfort in death as a doorway to a far richer and fulfilling state of being. We mostly went with (b), that is, God and religion. Religion tells us that we were created for a reason: To be grateful for being created and to kiss God's ass at every opportunity!
FASTER: Smaller's more demanding technology twin. You'd think we would be endlessly grateful for travel time from New York to San Francisco having been cut from 6 months to 6 hours in less than 100 years. Far from it, we tend to complain about every small delay or wait that we encounter. The only thing that exceeds the speed of technological progress is the speed with which we get irritated at its now relative slowness!
This is an enjoyable listen/read, not just for fans of Stewart's brand of humor, but for everyone else as well. It is a rare comic work that makes one think seriously about what we are doing to our environment and how close we are to the brink of extinction.

2017/11/03 (Friday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Interesting range of facial expressions in a sex-education class, 1929 A 5000-year-old toy chariot found in the ancient city of Sogmatar, southeastern Turkey (photograph by Halil Fidan) Soviet plane-spotters, circa 1917 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Interesting range of facial expressions in a sex-education class, 1929. [Center] A 5000-year-old toy chariot found in the ancient city of Sogmatar, southeastern Turkey (photograph by Halil Fidan). [Right] Soviet plane-spotters, circa 1917.
(2) Trump's shocking assertion in his latest Fox News interview: He is not worried that 5 of 6 undersecretary and 21 of 24 assistant-secretary positions in the State Department remain vacant, because his own opinion is the only thing that matters in making decisions.
(3) Twitter accounts connected with election meddling banned: The 2752 users include handles posing as local news titles, activist groups, and political commentators.
(4) Rich Americans giving up their citizenship to avoid taxes: In 2016, a total of 5411 US citizens renounced their citizenship, up 26 percent from 2015. A comparable increase is expected this year.
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Trump's Twitter account shut down for 11 minutes by an employee, who went rogue on last day of work.
- Make sure to look at the full "Beaver Moon" tonight, around 10:23 PM Pacific time.
- The Supreme Court reportedly unexcited to be hearing an important gerrymandering case.
- John Kerry and top US generals, 573 e-mail addresses in all, were on Russia's cyber-hit-list.
- Bin Laden, the enemy of the decadent West, had several American films in his movie collection.
- Cartoon of the day (about iPhone X): "There is no home button. You just click your heels three times."
Cover image of 'The Andy Cohen Diaries' (6) Book review: Cohen, Andy, The Andy Cohen Diaries: A Deep Look at a Shallow Year, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by the author, Mcmillan Audio, 2014. [My 2-star review of this book on GoodReads]
The American author and radio and TV host/producer, best known for his Bravo series "Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen" and as the executive producer of "The Real Housewives" franchise, reads his diary entries, which document in great detail his activities and thoughts. The reader/listener gets bored quickly, as the account for each day sounds pretty much like the previous one: walk the dog, mingle with famous people, film show, work out, and make some comment about being fat.
As a TV producer, it's not surprising that Cohen comes in contact with a lot of people. He is careful about dishing dirt, so as not to compromise his ability to book people on his shows. Throughout, Cohen name-drops B-list to D-list celebrities, such as X's son/daughter, Y's publicist/agent, or Z's hair stylist. A-listers, such as Madonna and Lady Gaga, are also mentioned, but do not form central players in the narrative.
I was able to stomach only 3 of the 14 parts of this audiobook, before thinking that my daily walking time would be better spent on something else (such as the intelligent comedy of Earth: A Visitor's Guide to the Human Race, by the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, to which I turned my attention). Going in, I thought that a book by a gay Jewish author should be doubly funny. The book does have some haha funny passages, but you have to mine for a long time to find the gems.

2017/11/02 (Thursday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Martin Luther King with his son, removing a burnt cross from their front yard, 1960 Leo Tolstoy with his granddaughter Tatiana, Russia, ca. 1910 President John F. Kennedy having a tea party with his daughter Caroline (1) History in pictures: [Left] Martin Luther King with his son, removing a burnt cross from their front yard, 1960. [Center] Leo Tolstoy with his granddaughter Tatiana, Russia, ca. 1910. [Right] President John F. Kennedy having a tea party with his daughter Caroline.
(2) Russians working at a "troll farm" alternately pretended to be rednecks, blacks, and other classes of Americans on social media, and they watched "House of Cards" to familiarize themselves with US politics.
(3) Oldest solar eclipse ever recorded: By allowing us to determine when Ramesses The Great actually ruled Egypt, the recently uncovered record could change the chronology of the ancient world.
(4) A heartfelt essay in Persian, with the provocative title "Iran is the Africa of the Sexually Hungry": In this 2-year-old story, a married woman writes about sexual harassment on the streets of Tehran and other hazards of being a woman in Iran.
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- US corporate taxes highest in the world? Here's what big corporations actually paid (average = 3.4%).
- Slow to react to the Las Vegas shooting, Trump wasted no time in blaming liberals for NYC's terror attack.
- The pattern continues: An utterly unqualified nominee for the post of USDA's top scientist.
- Is our number sense a neural capacity we are born with or is it a product of our culture? [Article]
- New York City memorial for bicyclists killed in truck terror attack of October 31, 2017.
- Full text of a very short story, entitled "The Oval Portrait," by Edgar Allan Poe.
(6) Responses to Donald Trump Jr.'s tweet about Halloween: DT Jr. likened socialism to taking half of his daughter's candy haul and giving it away to kids who stayed home. He heard back from many, including author J. K. Rowling.
(7) Robert Reich's talk at Campbell Hall this afternoon (which I did not attend): Entitled "How Did We Get into This Mess: Reclaiming Our Economy and Our Democracy," the talk was the inaugural event of the new Blum Center for Global Poverty Alleviation and Sustainable Development. Reich, Secretary of Labor under President Clinton and author of 15 books, including his latest, Saving Capitalism for the Many, Not the Few, has turned into a popular figure and sought-after speaker, given his searing social-media posts. I thought that getting to the venue 20 minutes before the 4:00 o'clock start time would be adequate, but upon getting there, I discovered that the large auditorium (capacity ~850) was already full and a line had formed of those still hoping to get in, as the ushers tried to compact the audience to unveil open spaces. At any rate, I was too far back in the line to get in. Here is Reich talking about his latest book at the Kansas City Public Library as a substitute for my would-be report. [Reich begins at the 8:00-minute mark of the video]

2017/11/01 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Sunset in the wild Moon over canyon Flower Paradise, Japan (1) Our beautiful nature: [Left] Sunset in the wild. [Center] Moon over canyon. [Right] Flower Paradise, Japan.
(2) Casualties of North Korea's nuclear tests: Some 200 people have died in a tunnel collapse caused by underground tests and scores of soldiers and their families are being treated for radiation exposure.
(3) NYC's truck-terrorist was a "friendly" Uber driver: No version of Trump's travel ban would have prevented the Uzbek's entry into the US.
(4) Getting out of prison vs. being freed from prison: Many reports on Iranian Baha'i leaders recently completing their prison terms refer to their "being freed from prison." I prefer to use "got out of prison." The former may be interpreted as some sort of pardon or shortened term, whereas these leaders actually served their full unjust prison terms. Unfortunately, we do not have a special term (in Persian or English) to refer to getting out of prison after serving a term, so we use "freed" ("azad shodan") to describe both a benevolent pardon event and completing one's prison term. [Persian version of this post]
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Volkswagen management knew about emissions cheating much earlier than previously admitted.
- Trump reportedly blames Kushner for the Mueller probe, because he urged the firing of Flynn and Comey.
- Houston beats LA 5-1 in game 7 to win the MLB championship. Well-deserved celebration, after Harvey!
- Marine Corps Vietnam War veterans recreate photo pose with surfboard after being apart for 50 years.
- Postmodern Jukebox's wonderful jazzy renditions of "Bad Romance" and "Careless Whisper."
- "Trump accuses Clinton of deliberately losing election so he could be impeached." ~ The Borowitz Report
(6) Saudi Arabia plans to build a $500 billion city of the future: Thirty-three times the size of New York City, Neom mega-city will be powered entirely by renewable energy. [Promotional video] [Web site]
(7) Former U. Iowa athlete arrested over high-tech cheating: He used spying software to gain professors' passwords and then entered their accounts to change grades numerous times, for himself and others.
(8) Today's noon concert at the UCSB Music Bowl: The UCSB Jazz Ensemble performed some wonderful tunes (New Orleans & other styles), including this tune, this fragment, and "Caravan" (with long improvisations).
(9) College soccer playoffs: By losing 0-1 at home to UC Riverside on an 87th-minute goal in a quarterfinals match, UCSB is eliminated from the Big West and NCAA tournaments. As they say, next year is another season!

2017/10/31 (Tuesday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
German prisoners of war being paraded through the streets of Moscow Tiananmen Square protests, China, 1989 Merit Ptah, perhaps the first woman of science to be known by name, practiced medicine ~5000 years ago in Egypt (1) History in pictures: [Left] German prisoners of war being paraded through the streets of Moscow. [Center] Tiananmen Square protests, China, 1989. [Right] Merit Ptah, perhaps the first woman of science to be known by name, practiced medicine ~5000 years ago in Egypt.
(2) As we are distracted by Trump's tweets about the Russia investigation, kneeling, "Fake News," uranium deal, and by other "breaking news" of the day, members of his cabinet are quietly attacking civil rights provisions, environmental regulations, consumer protections, and many other anti-bigotry, anti-greed, and anti-exploitation laws/institutions. [Time magazine cover image]
(3) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Truck terror attack on NYC bike path kills 8: The Uzbek suspect, shot by the police, shouted "Allahu Akbar."
- Good news: Iranian Baha'i leader Fariba Kamalabadi is out of prison after serving a 10-year sentence.
- More good news: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg says she isn't leaving the Supreme Court.
- First inter-stellar object from beyond our solar system has been observed in our neck of the celestial woods.
- The new $0.12 increase in CA gas tax will mean a larger increase in gas prices, if history is any indication.
- Proof that a missing hyphen can be just as dangerous as a missing Oxford comma. [Image]
(4) For ramen lovers: Are you the kind of person who slurps when eating noodles? No worries! For $130, you can buy one of the new noise-canceling forks being offered by the Japanese instant-ramen company Nisin.
(5) Donald Trump Jr. posts an ill-advised Halloween tweet, with a photo of his very young daughter dressed up as a police officer, and hears back about it.
@DonaldTrumpJr: "I'm going to take half of Chloe's candy tonight & give it to some kid who sat at home. It's never to (sic) early to teach her about socialism."
@jacobinmag: "Just wait until she finds out about capital income!"
@Bearpigman: "My man, 'socialism' was her getting that free candy in the first place. You taking half for reasons she can't understand is capitalism."
(6) My afternoon walk: Had a long, refreshing walk to the Camino Real Marketplace, returning via the bluffs at Coal Oil Point. The experience was enhanced by a message on a memorial bench and somewhat spoiled by the discourtesy of the area's horseback riders. [Photos]
(7) My Halloween 2017: Decoration and treats set-up. More photos, taken later in the evening.

2017/10/30 (Monday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Four future US presidents on their wedding days Comparing Oxford of 200 years ago (1810 painting) and today (2015 photograph) shows very little change Paul Newman at the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington (1) History in pictures: [Left] Four future US presidents on their wedding days. [Center] Comparing Oxford of 200 years ago (1810 painting) and today (2015 photograph) shows very little change! [Right] Paul Newman at the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington.
(2) Puerto Rico Governor cancels the contract awarded to the tiny Whitefish Energy company, with ties to the Trump administration, for repairing the island's power grid.
(3) [Here's an item to help you forget the grim political scene] Google criticized for placing cheese under the patty in its cheeseburger emoji: Cheese is almost always placed on top of the patty, because its stickiness helps hold other toppings in place!
(4) Fox guarding the hen house: Former dean of a for-profit college accused of fraudulent practices is now in charge of the fraud-handling unit of the Department of Education.
(5) Ten brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Rumors of imminent Mueller firing intensify amid indictments issued in the Russia collusion investigation.
- Thirteen different cancers can now be linked to sugar and carbs.
- Saudi Arabia lifts ban on women going to sports stadiums.
- The number of times Trump has offered the non-answer "we'll see" to different questions. [Chart]
- Cartoon of the day: The getaway cart. [Image] [From The New Yorker]
- Apple fires an engineer whose daughter posted a video of iPhone X before its release date.
- Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey apologizes for sexually assaulting a minor on movie set.
- Security info on Queen Elizabeth II and various UK officials found on USB stick discarded on London street.
- Preteen boy's suicide attempt by jumping off a freeway overpass kills 22-year-old woman.
- Postmodern Jukebox's wonderful jazzy rendition of "Call Me Maybe" and "Straight Up."
(6) Looking forward to attending "Montage 2017," UCSB Department of Music's talent showcase. Featuring classical, jazz, world, and contemporary music, the event will be held on Sunday November 12, 2017, 7:30 PM, at Trinity Episcopal Church, downtown Santa Barbara.
(7) I wouldn't have guessed it, but it's fairly easy to prove: You need on average e = 2.718... uniformly-distributed random numbers in [0, 1] for the sum to exceed 1 for the first time.

2017/10/29 (Sunday): Here are six items of potential interest.
West Palm Beach, Florida, 1910 The Rouchomovsky skeleton, circa 1890s Jacqueline and John F. Kennedy on an NYC street, 1960; photograph by Cornell Capa (1) History in pictures: [Left] West Palm Beach, Florida, 1910. [Center] The Rouchomovsky skeleton, 1890s. [Right] Jacqueline and John F. Kennedy on an NYC street, 1960; photograph by Cornell Capa.
(2) By a tie vote, broken by VP Pence, the US Senate threw out a key consumer-protection provision: "Yes" votes by all three "heroes" (Corker, Flake, McCain) enabled this gift to fraudulent or reckless financial firms, such as Wells Fargo and Equifax, which can now include forced arbitration clauses in their contracts to guard against lawsuits. Senators Lindsey Graham and John Neely Kennedy were the Republican "no" votes.
(3) Twitter suspends the account of former Trump aide Roger Stone: In a particularly vulgar tweetstorm, reported by numerous Twitter users, @RogerJStoneJr went after Don Lemon, Jake Tapper, Charles Blow, and other news-media figures. Conservatives are crying foul.
(4) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- As Mueller closes in, Trump goes back to Clinton e-mails, Comey, and other old subjects in a tweetstorm.
- Dodgers vs. Astros, Game 5: 4-4 after 4 innings; 7-7 after 5; 9-12 after 8; 12-12 after 10; 13-12 Houston!
- Jared Kushner traveled unannounced to Saudi Arabia "to continue discussion of Middle East peace."
- Fire in Santa Rosa's Fountaingrove region destroyed Hewlett-Packard's key historical archives.
- Fox News says that the real scandal is "Hillary Clinton's administration," a non-existent entity.
- Quote: "You know [things are] bad when W goes, 'Please dad, stop embarrassing the family!'" ~ Bill Maher
(5) Piano recital by Paul Berkowitz: This afternoon, I attended an enjoyable recital by UCSB Professor of Piano Paul Berkowitz, held at Music Academy of the West. Berkowitz, who has been described as being "in the royal class of Schubert interpreters," performed Schubert's last three piano sonatas to promote the release of his two new CDs, the final volumes 8 and 9 of his "Schubert Piano Works" series. Recording was prohibited, so here is the first piece in today's concert, "Sonata in C Minor, D958," from YouTube.
(6) Introduction to Neuroeconomics: How the Brain Makes Decisions (weeks 4-5): Having reported on the overall course structure and my experience in weeks 1-3 through my 10/24 post, I briefly describe the contents of the next two weeks here. There are 9 weeks in all, so I will likely offer two more posts.
Week 4: Neural representation of subjective values
a. Neural substrates of valuation (Value, utility, and brain; The nucleus accumbens, the core valuation region): Value is defined as the rate of firing of certain neurons. Animals work to stimulate the valuation neurons, even when no food reward is involved.
b. The nucleus accumbens codes anticipated gains (Expected value; Shopping, marketing, and learning): Traditional decision theory uses decision matrices as tools. Dopamine has developed into a prediction-error mechanism in the brain.
c. The orbitofrontal cortex derives a value signal (Decision values; The diffusion model & valuation process): Many lobotomies were performed (40,000 in the US alone) to disconnect the orbitofrontal cortex from the rest of the brain to deal with certain behavioral problems. Now we know that such an operation causes apathy and cognitive alternations. The amygdala is activated when assessing potential costs (negative effects) of a decision. The activity of the prefrontal cortex (decision-making region) has been observed to be proportional to the difference between the nucleus accumbens (benefits) and the amygdala (costs).
Week 5: Affective mechanisms of decision-making
a. Emotions I: Biological level of emotional stimuli processing (Innate reactions to emotional stimuli; Emotions as heuristics): Subliminal exposure to happy/neutral/angry faces affects decisions made subsequently. Exposure to photos of good-looking members of the opposite sex can modulate our discount parameter, intensifying our preference for immediate rewards. Sunshine is significantly correlated with daily stock returns. Emotions play a major role in decision-making. Certain emotions also act as releasers for our innate reactions, such as our built-in ability to recognize faces.
b. Emotions II: Neurobiology of emotions (Amygdala—an emotional computer; Emotions, consciousness, and optimal decisions): Humans have innate abilities to exhibit and recognize emotional expressions. Even blind children, who have never seen a facial expression, make the same faces to display happiness, disgust, etc. Our old brain consists of the reptilian brain, the paleomammalian brain (limbic system), and neomammalian brain. MacLean theory (no longer popular) suggests that the limbic system links our emotions to our social behavior, such as care for our children. Newer theories suggest that emotions are distributed throughout the brain. Emotions are states elicited by stimuli with subjective values (non-zero utility). Unemotional people have been shown to make poor decisions. However, in certain cases, emotions can inhibit optimal decisions.

2017/10/28 (Saturday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Downtown Las Vegas, 1912 Henry Behrens, the smallest man in the world, dances with his pet cat,1956 Illegal alcohol being poured out of storage building during Prohibition, Detroit, 1929 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Downtown Las Vegas, 1912. [Center] Henry Behrens, the smallest man in the world, dances with his pet cat,1956. [Right] Illegal alcohol being poured out of storage building during Prohibition, Detroit, 1929.
(2) Words and phrases used to describe the various parts of the Web we ordinary mortals do not see but that have a deep impact on our lives. [Source: IEEE Spectrum magazine, issue of October 2017]
Black Web | Dark side | Dark Web | Darknet | Deep Web | Hidden Web | Invisible Web
(3) Making big data a little smaller: The Johnson-Linderstrauss Lemma (JLL) states that for any finite collection of points in a high-dimensional space, one can find a collection of points in a lower dimension, while preserving all distances between the points. This allows us to reduce dimensionality before running algorithms to improve speed. It was recently demonstrated by Jelani Nelson (Harvard) and Kasper Green Larsen (Aarhus U.) that there exist 'hard' datasets for which dimensionality reduction beyond what is provided by JLL is impossible.
(4) On Alan M. Turing and the award that bears his name: Would Turing have won the prestigious award (often characterized as the Nobel Prize of Computing) named after him? This question sounds bizarre, but there is some substance to it. The history of the Turing Award and the question above are discussed by Moshe Vardi in his November 2017 column in Communications of the ACM. It is unclear that he would have, but Vardi concludes that he should have!
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- MLB Dodgers-Astros championship series is tied 2-2. Game 5 tomorrow at Houston. Games 6-7 in LA.
- Going backwards: Russia decriminalizes certain forms of domestic violence.
- Robots vs. Music: Robotic band plays/destroys various instruments. [Video]
- Cartoon of the day: "You knew what you signed up for!" [Image]
- Team Tyson/Nye wants to make America smart again! [T-shirt]
- Here are some of the images I found that illustrate the spread of fake news on Facebook.
(6) The singles scene: I keep being presented on Facebook with advertising posts from the site "Santa Barbara Singles." Among the insights doled out by the site is the fact that people in their 20s and 30s consider "dinner" to be the ideal first date, whereas those over 40 prefer "coffee." Good to know!

2017/10/27 (Friday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Cutting a sunbeam, 1886 (photo by Adam Diston) Soldiers and German townspeople react, as they are brought in to watch footage from concentration camps Female steel-workers during wartime, 1942 (soon to be a statue in Sheffield) (1) History in pictures: [Left] Cutting a sunbeam, 1886 (photo by Adam Diston). [Center] Soldiers and German townspeople react, as they are brought in to watch footage from concentration camps. [Right] Female steel-workers during wartime, 1942 (soon to be a statue in Sheffield).
(2) My upcoming bilingual lectures at UCLA: I will be giving a Persian lecture (Sunday, November 19, 2017, 4:00-6:00 PM, UCLA Dodd Hall, Room 121) and its English version (Monday, November 20, 2:00-4:00 PM, UCLA Humanities Building, Room 365), as part of UCLA's Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran. The talks are titled "Computers and Challenges of Writing in Persian" (with the alternate title: "Fifty Years of Poor Penmanship—How Computers Struggled to Learn the Persian Script").
(3) Joke of the day: A prisoner goes to the librarian at Tehran's Evin Prison and asks him if they have a particular book. "No," he responds, "but we have its author." [Persian version in image]
(4) Women who are conditioned to enable men who behave badly: A different perspective on the ongoing discussion about sexual predatory behavior and its victims. "Culturally, we are taught as women that our main power is our looks and sexuality."
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Insightful interview with a female Jewish reporter who traveled to Iran twice and fell in love with its people.
- Trump considers funding his infrastructure plan by raising federal gas taxes, a regressive form of taxation.
- Former Trump aide Sebastian Gorka raises the refrain "Lock Her Up" against Clinton to "Electrocute Her."
- Uber drivers caught charging riders bogus cleaning fees, at times exceeding $100.
- Modern Persian music: Eendo performs "Naghsh-e To" ("Your Image") and "Sahm-e Man" ("My Share").
- Surfer builds a board out of 10,000 cigarette butts he collected from the sand and beach parking lots.
(6) The failing peer-review system: No, this isn't a Trump tweet; it's really happening. Too many research papers are being published, too little time is being spent on their evaluation, and journal publishers' profit motive is too strong for bad science to be properly filtered out. "Any paper, however bad, can now get published in a journal that claims to be peer-reviewed."
(7) "In-memory" computing can lead to 200x performance improvement: IBM researchers have developed a "computational memory" architecture, which would enable ultra-dense, low-power, massively parallel computer systems. The idea is to use one device, such as phase-change memory, to both store and process data, thus removing the von Neumann bottleneck (limited bandwidth in transferring data between memory and processor) in conventional architectures.
(8) Russia is building naval bases on island chain under longstanding dispute with Japan: Let's see if our President eventually complains about this aggressive move. For now, he is occupied with the Seth Rich murder conspiracy theory and the JFK assassination files!

2017/10/26 (Thursday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Complete map of American rivers and tributaries (1) US rivers and tributaries: Every single one of them! The largest network of rivers, shown in pink, includes basins for the Mississippi, Missouri, and Arkansas rivers.
(2) Quote of the day: "When a leader correctly identifies real hurt and insecurity in our country and instead of addressing it goes looking for somebody to blame, there is perhaps nothing more devastating to a pluralistic society. Leadership knows that most often a good place to start in assigning blame is to first look somewhat closer to home. Leadership knows where the buck stops. Humility helps. Character counts. Leadership does not knowingly encourage or feed ugly and debased appetites in us." ~ Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona
(3) Everyone in Iran seems to be happy about Trump's recent speech on the "5 + 1" nuclear deal:
- Hardliners gleefully point out that they knew the US cannot be trusted (and lno "terrorsit" label for IRGC)
- Reformers are jubilant that the nuclear agreement was given a 2-month life extension, with no sanctions
- Anti-regime factions are pleased that Trump did not rule out the military option and regime change
- All 3 groups, however, are united in their condemnation of Trump referring to the Persian Gulf as "Arabian"
(4) Yu Darvish, the half-Iranian half-Japanese Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher: The MLB championship series between LA Dodgers and Houston Astros is tied 1-1 going into the third game tomorrow. Darvish will start.
(5) One dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Trump's Department of Education rescinds 72 guidance documents outlining rights for disabled students.
- With fewer than 10,000 AI specialists worldwide, $500,000 salaries are quite common.
- Persian music by Eendo: "Waltz-e Chaman" ("Greenery Waltz"); "Hamin Lahzeh" ("This Very Moment").
- Cartoon of the day: Monument to incompetence. [By John Atkinson] [Image]
- Boo! Americans spent $3.13B on Halloween in 2016, $420M of it on costumes for pets.
- PhotoShopped images of the Founding Fathers reacting to Trump go viral.
- Afghan girls try mountain-climbing despite numerous obstables and it gives them a chance to breathe free.
- Posing as an accountant, female Russian spy tried to gain access to Hillary Clinton's inner circle.
- First "unmanned" Southwest STL-SFO flight, with all-female flight crew: Pilot, co-pilot, and 4 attendants.
- Self-driving lidar-equipped wheelchairs debut in hospitals and airports.
- Magnitude-4.3 quake strikes near Lompoc, ~50 miles north of Sanata Barbara, CA, at 12:38 PM today.
- Babcock ranch in Florida aspires to be the most sustainable town in America.
(6) A different kind of arms race: In the face of threats from hatemongers, gays and other threatened groups are buying arms and taking shooting lessons in record numbers. Will we need a national disarmament treaty to defuse the danger of armed conflicts on our streets?
(7) The Final Transition Project: As if receiving funeral and cremation flyers in the mail wasn't bad enough, I now see Facebook ads for The Final Transition Project, described on its FB page as being "about science, death, and consciousness, from experts in joyful living, emotional health during dying, nursing, and palliative care."

2017/10/25 (Wednesday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Abraham Lincoln, before he grew his trademark beard Alfred Hitchcock, 1920 Music to be murdered by, 1958 album (1) History in pictures: [Left] Abraham Lincoln, before he grew his trademark beard. [Center] Alfred Hitchcock, 1920. [Right] Music to be murdered by, 1958 album.
(2) US-Iran interactions are not limited to political bickering: There is also much scientific collaboration and data sharing. The unraveling of the nuclear deal might put much of these programs at risk.
(3) Iraqi Kurds are being attacked once again: With Iraqis' common top enemy, ISIS, on the run, the Iraqi government seems to be ditching the truce with Iraqi Kurds, beginning attacks on them, a la Saddam Hussein.
(4) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- US cities are competing for the privilege of hosting Amazon's new headquarters.
- Japan's Kobe Steel chief apologized for falsifying quality data, including parts used for high-speed trains.
- Trump recalls retired pilots to put nuclear bombers on 24-hour alert.
- Super Bowl LII halftime show will be headlined by Justin Timberlake (w/o Janet Jackson).
- Apt Halloween decoration in hurricane-damaged US areas. [Photo]
- Trump's efforts to close the door on Obamacare have been largely unsuccessful. [Image]
(5) Today's noon concert at UCSB's Music Bowl: Vientos del Sur (Winds of the South) played as part of the World Music Series concerts. ["El Condor Pasa"] [A wonderful love song] [Short percussion sample]
(6) College soccer: Tonight, UCSB played its last home game of the regular season against Sacramento State. The game ended 0-0 after two golden-goal overtime periods. UCSB should make it to the Big West playoffs, as it will tie for first place (if UC Davis loses to Cal Poly tonight) or will be the second-place team. The UCSB Dance Team performed at halftime. As I walked home around 9:30 PM, my weather app showed 94 degrees as the temperature, which was 20-25 degrees off. Perhaps the app overheated over the past three very hot days!
(7) Fascinating talk by Google's Director of Research: Peter Norvig spoke at UCSB's Campbell Hall this afternoon under the title "Creating Software with Machine Learning: Challenges and Promises," as the inaugural talk in the Data Science Distinguished Lecture Series. [Selected slides]
Software creation is moving from being a mathematical science (logical, certain) to an empirical science (probabilistic, uncertain). The process is changing from micromanaging the computer (telling it how to do things) to teaching it about what we want to accomplish and letting it discover how to meet our needs. This change is motivated by our desire to develop software faster (in days, not months or years), produce magical results (unexpected deductions or insights that sometimes emerge from the analysis of massive data sets), and update the software in real time, as we learn more about the application domain.
Deep learning, which Norvig characterized as a cushy marketing term for what a scientist might call "hierarchical basis-function regression," is the key tool in ML-based software creation. A good example is Google's AlphaGo-Zero, the latest Go-playing program that self-trained, after being given the Go rules, by playing against itself (it wasn't fed with any human-played games). The program managed to rise to the level of a human player in 3 days and to world's top player in 40 days.
Unlike the game of Go, many applications do not have clear-cut rules, so they present greater challenges. Norvig provided several examples from the domain of image labeling, where two pizzas sitting on a stove-top were correctly identified (though awkwardly described) by the program, but a horse in pajamas and Elvis dancing were mislabeled.
Translation between languages is another example, where much improvement is needed, but the problem of developing 9900 different translators for 100 languages would be infeasible without using ML.
One of the challenges of ML-based software creation is debugging. In the case of image labeling, one can always achieve better performance by feeding the program with more pre-labeled images, but it would be nice to be able to go under the hood, so to speak, to see why a program decided in a certain way and which features of the image, or which pixels, figured prominently in that decision.
One final topic covered in the talk was the use of ML in an environment with adversaries. It is one thing to be able to recognize naturally-created images and quite another thing to deal with images modified by an adversary to throw the system off. As an example, Norvig showed the photo of a panda that, when augmented with less than 0.1% pixels of noise by an adversary, would be labeled by the program as a gibbon, whereas the picture still looked very much like a panda to a human viewer.

2017/10/24 (Tuesday): Here are six items of potential interest.
JFK bought 1200 Cuban cigars just hours before signing the embargo against Cuba Public humiliation of class enemies during the Cultural Revolution, China, 1966 London's first black police officer, PC Norwell Roberts, on point duty near Charing Cross Station, 1968 (1) History in pictures: [Left] JFK bought 1200 Cuban cigars just hours before signing the embargo against Cuba. [Center] Public humiliation of class enemies during the Cultural Revolution, China, 1966. [Right] London's first black police officer, PC Norwell Roberts, on point duty near Charing Cross Station, 1968.
(2) Blockchains everywhere: Looks like every science/tech periodical I read these days has a feature story on blockchains. This photo shows the 2-page spread at the beginning of 38 pages of coverage in the October 2017 issue of IEEE Spectrum magazine. The same issue also contains an interesting article about how China is mining for Bitcoins in Ordos, a city in Inner Mongolia, with many coal-fired power plants and a booming economy. Fully half of the $8M daily Bitcoin mining rewards go to miners in China.
(3) Rope memory: Built for the first time in this 1963 prototype for NASA's Apollo missions, rope memory stores the 0s and 1s of a program as wires going or not going through tiny magnetic cores. Workers carefully embedded each bit of information by hand into this robust and non-volatile memory. Note that this read-only storage scheme is different from the read-write magnetic core memory, in which a core's direction of magnetization signals 0 or 1. [Image credit: IEEE Spectrum magazine, October 2017]
(4) Eight brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- From UCSB Library's wall exhibit "Art of Science 2017."
- A woman's experience in being cat-called, to put it mildly, and in reporting the incident.
- Imagining the future is a form of memory: Amnesia patients also lose the ability to predict the future.
- The latest Halloween costume for dreamers: Scared of being deported by Trump!
- Great idea: Crosswalk painted in 3D to make it more visible to drivers (photo shows a town in Iceland).
- A world wonder: These hex-shaped columns formed naturally by cooling lava 60M years ago.
- Facing 100+ temps and severe fire dangers, warnings are already out about flood risks come winter!
- Break the Chains: A cheerful tune with an empowering message for women everywhere. (Persian subtitles)
(5) The golfing Trump family: From Donald, who repeatedly declared during his campaign that as President, he would have no time for vacations or golfing, to Ivanka, who is shown golfing in a dress and high heels. Here is a compilation video about Trump dissing Obama many times for playing golf.
(6) "Introduction to Neuroeconomics: How the Brain Makes Decisions": This on-line Coursera offering introduces one to a new field of research that is less than two decades old. I covered 3 of the 9 weeks worth of lectures over last night and today. This write-up of my experiences is intended to give the reader a feel for the course, to see if s/he wants to pursue it.
The instructor, Vasily Klucharev (Moscow Higher School of Economics; neurophysiology PhD from St. Petersburg State Univ.), is a tad difficult to understand, but the slides and reference material make up for this shortcoming.
Here are some of the references:
- Chapters from Handbook of Neuroeconomics: Decision Making and the Brain, by Paul Glimcher et al., 2014.
- Those with no neuroscience background can use "Foundations of Neuroeconomic Analysis" P. W. Glimcher.
- Handbook of Cognitive Neuroscience: The Biology of the Mind, M. Gazzaniga et al., 2013, ch. 1-3, 12-14.
- Journal articles in neuroeconomics, selected for their clarity and accessibility [Visit the course plan]
Here is a list of the 9 weekly "lectures," each of which consists of a number of short videos and ends with a multiple-choice quiz:
Lecture 1: Introduction
Lecture 2: Brain and anatomy functions
Lecture 3: Introducing brain models of decision making and choice
Lecture 4: Neural representation of the subjective value, basal ganglia and choice value
Lecture 5: Affective mechanisms of decision-making
Lecture 6: Dual process theory of decision-making
Lecture 7: Decision-making under risk
Lecture 8: The social brain
Lecture 9: Taking an evolutionary perspective: the 'economic animal'
Here are some bits and pieces of info I gleaned from the first three lectures:
"A person's mental activities are entirely due to the behavior of nerve cells, glial cells, and the atoms, ions, and molecules that make them up and influence them." ~ Francis Crick [1916-2004]
Neuroeconomics = Neuroscience of decision-making; it is a branch of neuroscience, not economics
Brain signals can predict a decision seconds before one becomes aware of the decision (free will is an illusion)
Reference: Glimcher, Paul W. and Ernst Fehr, "Introduction: A Brief History of Neuroeconomincs," in Neuroeconomics: Decision Making and the Brain, 2nd ed., Academic Press, 2014. [On-line]
Two events gave birth to neuroeconomics: The neoclassical economics revolution of the 1930s and the emergence of cognitive neuroscience during the 1990s.
Neoclassical economics derives hidden preferences from observed choices, using mathematical models and divorcing the process from psychology and basing it on simple axioms. Demonstration of examples where some of these axioms didn't hold (paradoxes) led to the birth of behavioral economics, experimental economics, and, eventually, neuroeconomics. Although roots of the ideas go a few years further back, neuroeconomics was born at a small 2003 invitation-only gathering.
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is a key tool for neuroeconomics studies.
Huettel, Scott A., Allen W. Song, and Gregory McCarthy, Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, 2014.
Diffusion model, comprised of collecting evidence, integrating inputs over time, and comparing the cumulative evidence to a threshold, is a main decision-making scheme in the human brain, which can also help explain collective decisions (such as those of honey bees).

2017/10/23 (Monday): Here are five items of potential interest.
Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in 1971 Rita Hayworth, 1948 Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean in 1955 (1) History in pictures (movie stars edition): [Left] Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in 1971. [Center] Rita Hayworth, 1948. [Right] Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean in 1955.
(2) On feelings about movies produced by Harvey Weinstein: "In the days after the Weinstein story broke, I noticed a number of young women on social media fretting that movies they had loved growing up ... now seemed tainted. Could they ever bear to enjoy them again? But to reject the movies themselves amounts to punishing the victim. It undercuts the fine work that so many women—and decent men—have put into Weinstein-produced movies over the years. The ugly reality that some of those women were working under duress makes their contribution, and their fortitude, even more admirable." ~ Stephanie Zacharek, writing as part of Time magazine's cover feature on Harvey Weinstein's sexual misconduct, issue of October 23, 2017
(3) Quote of the day: "[M]any women can't risk the financial consequences of standing up to power and subjecting themselves to retaliation, character assassination, demotion, termination and blacklisting." ~ Gretchen Carlson, writing as part of Time magazine's cover feature on Harvey Weinstein's sexual misconduct, issue of October 23, 2017
(4) Eight brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- EPA has canceled appearances of three of its scientists slated to speak at a climate change conference.
- Draft dodger, comparing his risky sexual behavior to dangers of war, thinks that a POW isn't a war hero!
- Homes can and should be made a lot harder to burn: Some existing homes are like a pile of wood.
- Hot, hot, hot: Expecting 100-degree temps over the next couple of days in Santa Barbara and Ventura.
- The chilling story of a Muslim-American who infiltrated Al Qaeda as an FBI undercover agent.
- Meet some of the Kurdish female fighters who helped defeat ISIS in Raqqa.
- Fake Navy-Seal/Vietnam-vet, with two fake Purple Heart medals, praises Trump on Fox News.
- Interesting 10/27 talk on the Iranian-American Contributions Project, for those in the Los Angeles area.
Photo of Richard Feineman (5) Thoughts on Physicist Richard Feynman: A discussion on a Facebook friend's post about Nobel Laureate and explainer-in-chief Richard Feynman led me to a search on Facebook to find and repost a book review I wrote a few years ago. Facebook doesn't make it easy to find your old posts. Fortunately, I keep copies of my Facebook posts in a diary and also make parallel posts of most items on this page.
First, let me share with you this Feynman quote that I found during my search: "When a scientist doesn't know the answer to a problem, he is ignorant. When he has a hunch as to what the result is, he is uncertain. And when he is pretty darn sure of what the result is going to be, he is still in some doubt. We have found it of paramount importance that in order to progress we must recognize our ignorance and leave room for doubt."
Now on to my review of Classic Feynman: All the Adventures of a Curious Character (W. W. Norton & Company, 2006), which contains all the material from the 1985 book, Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character), and its 1988 sequel, What Do You Care What Other People Think? Further Adventures of a Curious Character. The two books are not simply juxtaposed but their essays and chapters are merged to form a new arrangement of the material.
You can find the review of the book as a September 16, 2014 entry in the reverse-chronological PDF file which is accessible from near the top of my Blog & Books page. Here is a direct link to the PDF file. Also, I have just posted my review of the book on GoodReads to make it more widely accessible.
One of the remarkable things about Feyneman was his exemplary marriage to his first wife, Arline. His love letters to his terminally-ill wife, before and after her untimely death, are discussed in this post. Fearing that her illness might be contagious, they made love for the first time 2.5 years after they got married.
Feynman was the rare scientist who saw the big picture spanning not just the entire domain of science but life. An excellent example of Feyneman's curiosity and playfulness is on display in this 24-minute interview, where Feynman describes how he came to know of the tiny country Tannu Tuva (now part of Russia), and its capital Kyzyl, and how he and a friend went about exploring and learning about the country. Feynman passed away two weeks after this interview, a few days before an invitation from the Russian Academy of Sciences for a fully-paid visit to Tannu Tuva arrived.

2017/10/22 (Sunday): Here are six items of potential interest.
The Great Alaska earthquake of 1964, magnitude 9.2 William Harley and Arthur Davidson, 1914 A vending machine that sold already-lit cigarettes for a penny in 1931 England (1) History in pictures: [Left] Magnitude-9.2 Alaska earthquake of 1964. [Center] William Harley and Arthur Davidson, 1914. [Right] A vending machine that sold already-lit cigarettes for a penny in 1931 England.
(2) China is headed for dominance in the clean-energy market: Having made giant strides in solar and wind energy, China is now eyeing the energy storage market; lithium-ion batteries in particular. China already has 156,000 electric-vehicle charging stations and plans to increase the number to 4.8 million by 2020. It is projected that by 2020, China will produce 121 GWh of lithium-ion battery capacity annually. [Source: Time magazine, issue of October 16, 2017]
(3) A previously unreported sexual-harassment settlement: Worth $32 million, the newly unveiled case brings the total paid by Fox to victims of Bill O'Reilly to $45 billion. Fox paid O'Reilly $25 million as he was forced out earlier this year.
(4) A Facebook friend's heartfelt essay (in Persian) on having to flee her home in a rush, with empty hands, as the Santa Rosa fires, in northern California, were closing in: She recalls three previous flights, once in the aftermath of bombs falling on her hometown of Ahwaz during the Iran-Iraq war; a second time when she had to move from house to house, as Iraqi rockets targeted Tehran; and yet again when she fled her home country of Iran, taking with her a single suitcase.
(5) Half-dozen news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- US-backed militias have declared the total liberation of Raqqa, which was the de facto capital of ISIS.
- Former head of ACLU defends free-speech rights, even for Neo-Nazis.
- Wonderful cover of the classic love ballad "Dream On" by Postmodern Jukebox.
- Cartoon of the day: On increasing deficit spending to finance tax cuts for the super-rich. [Image]
- Five former US presidents participate in concert to benefit hurricane victims. [Photo]
- Efforts by China's Communist Party to woo the youth via glossy propaganda films produce box-office flops.
Cover image of David McCullough's 'The American Spirit' (6) Book review: McCullough, David, The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For, unabridged audiobook on 4 CDs, read by the author, Simon & Schuster Audio, 2017. [My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This slim book, a collection of speeches spanning three decades (including several commencement addresses), was one of the most enjoyable reads/listens of recent years for me. McCullough reminds us of things that made this country great, but which have been forgotten amidst conflicts and divisions.
Politicians used to be thinkers, orators, and strategists who cared and thought about long-term interests of our country (many of them, anyway), rather than petty paper-pushers and deal-makers who can see only as far as the next election, if that far. The halls of Congress have seen many great men (and very few women, unfortunately) who shaped our country, its passion for social justice, and its can-do attitude.
Great presidents and other politicians of our past did not have the Internet at their fingertips, and often did not enjoy access to a decent library or a large stash of books, as they wrote their speeches and other documents, such as the Declaration of Independence. Yet, they managed to say or write statements of lasting value. And this thoughtfulness extended to people in other walks of life, from industrialists to artists.
McCullough is often described as the elder statesman of American history. But this book isn't just about American history. It's also about life, about expectations, about events (historical or otherwise) not being inevitable but dependent on our actions, and it is full of words of wisdom from someone who deserves to be looked up to. Let me end my review with this gem of an observation from one of the book's speeches: "We should never look down on those of the past and say they should have known better. What do you think they will be saying about us in the future?"

2017/10/21 (Saturday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Abstract drawing of a distributed network for sharing of information (1) Silvio Micali's "Algorand: A Better Shared Ledger": On Friday, October 13, 2017, I made a brief post about the 2017 Turing Lecture right after listening to it streaming on-line. The sound quality was poor and the absence of slides, which did not advance due to a technical difficulty with the platform, combined with the speaker's enunciation/accent made it difficult to understand the technical concepts. I have pursued the matter on-line and have found a paper by Jing Chen and Silvio Micali, posted on May 26, 2017, on arXiv, that describes the concept of Algorand and its implementation in great detail.
Shared ledger is a chunk of shared data that is accessible freely, with everybody allowed to read from and write into it, but nobody allowed to change what is already written. Such a secure shared ledger has become quite important, given the spread of digital currencies. Even in the case of US dollar, which isn't a digital currency, it is estimated that 80% of the supply only exist as ledger entries. To post a new block to a secure distributed ledger, one must show proof of work. The amount of work needed is so extensive that, roughly speaking, only one block can be posted every few minutes, even if substantial computational power is applied to the problem. This is also very wasteful, because a great deal of energy is expended by computers that carry out the computations, to the extent that BitCoin-related computations can be viewed as significant contributors to global warming. Micali's work combines the original scheme of BitCoin with the notion of Byzantine agreement (in a fast and scalable implementation) to make block generation much more efficient, while keeping the security and trustworthiness unaffected. Asked about the term "Algorand," Micali described it as a mythical place for people to play and explore.
(2) Orionid Meteor Shower: Around this time each year, the Earth's orbit intersects with the path of Halley's Comet, whose debris (bits of dust, essentially) appear as shooting stars, as they streak through our sky. Good viewing times are just before dawn, both today (Saturday) and tomorrow (Sunday).
(3) Joke of the day: Question: What's the difference between Donald Trump and illegal immigrants?
Answer: Illegal immigrants pay taxes and some of them could pass a citizenship test.
(4) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Trump is anti-Obama in every possible way: Opinion piece, entitled "Trump, Chieftain of Spite," in NYT.
- Jacinda Ardern is New Zealand's youngest female PM in 150 years: They had a female leader 150 years ago?
- The fake "Blacktivist" Facebook page had 20% more likes than the real "Black Lives Matter" page. (CNN)
- Trump gave his administration a 10 on Hurricane Maria relief efforts. 10 out of what? 100?
- Iranian Baha'is face new wave of arrests, just before the 200th birthday of the faith's founder.
- Racist nursing textbook lists how blacks, Jews, Arabs/Muslims, ... might react to pain and treatment.
(5) Quick-and-easy guide to happiness: I am suspicious of a quick-and-easy guide to anything, but most of these 8 suggestions (from Time magazine, issue of October 2, 2017) resonated with me.
- Write a thank-you note: Reflecing on a friend's impact can brighten your day and his/hers.
- Snap a smartphone photo: It directs your attention, which may enhance your pleasure of the moment.
- Drop (almost) everything: Higher degrees of multi-taskeing has been found to increase anxiey levels.
- Get some sun: It may help regulate mood by boosting serotonin, a brain chemical linked to calmness.
- Jot down what you are grateful for: Doing so has been linked to greater feelings of happiness.
- Think about doing someone a favor: Research shows the thought to be enough for a lift, even before acting.
- Do a mini-meditation: A brief but consistent mindfulness habit can help us better react to stress.
- Buy tickets to events: Experiences give us more joy than things, and many memories sweeten with time.
(6) Former UCSB student headed to prison for 36 years: The sentence resulted from various crimes committed in 2014, including two counts of brutal rape as member of a group, whose other members remain at large. The case went cold and thus remained unsolved for 2 years, until DNA evidence led to an arrest in 2016.

2017/10/20 (Friday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Two daredevils playing tennis on a flying airplane at 1000m altitude, Los Angeles, 1925 Albert Einstein visiting the Grand Canyon in 1931 First UN assembly in New York City (1) History in pictures: [Left] Two daredevils playing tennis on a flying airplane at 1000m altitude, Los Angeles, 1925. [Center] Albert Einstein visiting the Grand Canyon in 1931. [Right] First UN assembly in New York City.
(2) Russia created fake black-activist group to stir racial tensions in the lead up to the 2016 US election and, according to several recent reports, is still active in this domain. If Trump truly did not collude with Russia, he should show outrage over a foreign power meddling in domestic US affairs with the goal of creating discord. Paying lip service to respecting the flag, without a willingness to defend the country against external forces of evil is extremely hypocritical!
(3) Sexist homework assignment: Asked to use synonyms with the 'ur' sound, a young girl provided a perfect answer to Question 1, "Hospital lady." Yet, the teacher couldn't let her correct answer ("Surgeon") go without adding the "expected" answer ("Nurse") in red!
(4) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- US soldiers killed in Niger, tasked with fighting IS, appear to have been poorly equipped and supported.
- Trump is torn between McConnell and Bannon, needing one to govern and the other to maintain his base.
- Quote of the day: "Bigotry and white supremacy are 'blasphemy' against the American creed." ~ G. W. Bush
- Time magazine cover of October 23, 2017, portrays Harvey Weinstein as "Producer, Predator, Pariah."
- Senator John McCain supports Democrats' bill seeking greater transparency in Facebook ads.
- MLB World Series will be played by LA Dodgers and the winner of NY Yankees vs. Houston Astros.
(5) Quote of the day: "This man in the Oval Office is a soulless coward who thinks that he can only become large by belittling others. This has of course been a common practice of his, but to do it in this manner—and to lie about how previous presidents responded to the deaths of soldiers—is as low as it gets. We have a pathological liar in the White House: unfit intellectually, emotionally, and psychologically to hold this office and the whole world knows it, especially those around him every day. The people who work with this President should be ashamed because they know it better than anyone just how unfit he is, and yet they choose to do nothing about it. This is their shame most of all." ~ San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich
(6) Trump again calls the ongoing Russia investigation "a hoax," suggesting that the US sale of uranium to Russia is the "real Russia story": Hey, you are the US President with a vast Department of Justice, headed by your puppet, under your control. Why don't you suggest investigations by DoJ on all of Obama's and Hillary Clinton's supposed wrongdoings? Stop complaining, as if you are the underdog here!
[The increase in the number of tweets and statements about Russia in recent days is an indication that the probe is getting uncomfortably close to Trump and that he is feeling the heat, so to speak!]
(7) Energy Leadership Lecture 2017: Dr. Urs Holzle, Senior VP for Technical Infrastructure and Senior Fellow at Google, spoke under the title "Advances in Energy Efficiency through Cloud and ML" at UCSB's Corwin Pavilion today at 4:30 PM. As the title implies, Dr. Holzle discussed how moving computations to the cloud and application of machine learning can significantly lower energy consumption and replace dirty energy with clean, renewable energy. [Selected slides]
Energy implications of computing have become quite important. Servers use ~ 200 TWh of energy, which is comparable to energy use in all of Mexico. Google alone uses as much energy as the city of San Francisco. Given that Google has a lot of users, the per-user energy consumption, which is about 0.5 W on an on-going basis, is rather insignificant, when compared with the user's laptop or other computing equipment. Energy used in computing falls into three categories: Buildings housing computing equipment, be they server rooms in smaller organizations or giant data centers run by Google and the like; Servers themselves; User equipment and associated communications.
As for the energy used in data-center installations, it consisted until fairly recently of three nearly equal parts devoted to mechanical cooling, IT equipment, and everything else (lighting, UPS, etc.). So, the energy used for the actual computation was multiplied by a factor of 3.0, implying a 200% overhead. More efficient modern data centers reduced this factor to 1.8, for an overhead of 80%. Now, we can go as low as 10% overhead through a variety of energy saving schemes, including the application of machine learning to adjust a building's cooling strategy based on information about the applicable parameters.
Servers have undergone similar efficiency improvements. Earlier, some 50% of energy went to waste, even before power got to the actual circuits. By eliminating this waste, we are now at about 10% overhead relative to the actual energy used by the circuits. The circuit energy has been going down by 20% per year in recent years (post-Moore's-Law era). Factors leading to this reduction are smaller circuits, clock-gating (disabling the parts of the circuits not in use, so that they don't draw energy), frequency scaling (operating at lower speed when the workload is light), and specialization (tailoring the circuits to computations). In the latter domain, Google's hardware optimized for machine learning uses 0.2 MW of power, compared with 2.5 MW needed by a general-purpose supercomputer doing the same job.
As a whole, the IT industry uses about 2% of the world's energy, which is of the same order as the amount used by airlines. Because modern data centers are way more efficient than local server installations, moving to the cloud will reduce the energy consumption associated with computations by some 87%. Additional benefits of this migration are that it makes the use of renewable energy possible (in 2017, Google has achieved its 100% renewables goal) and requires less redundancy to ensure reliability (Gmail uses 1% redundancy, whereas a typical local e-mail server installation needs at least duplication to avoid service disruptions). This makes the user-side energy consumption even more important. Fortunately, with the move away from desktops and laptops to tablets and smartphones, user-side energy consumption is also going down.

2017/10/19 (Thursday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Inauguration of the statue of Jesus Christ in Rio de Janeiro, 1931 Riverfront street in Baghdad, Iraq, 1965 View from the top of the Arc de Triomphe, Paris, 1900 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Inauguration of the statue of Jesus Christ in Rio de Janeiro, 1931. [Center] Riverfront street in Baghdad, Iraq, 1965. [Right] View from the top of the Arc de Triomphe, Paris, 1900.
(2) New on-line scam: I received this notice of traffic fines, already paid from my account. I became suspicious, both because I have not driven in NYC lately and I rarely use this particular e-mail account. The scammer counts on you becoming sufficiently alarmed to click on one of the links in the message and thereby infect your computer with malware or go to a phishing Web site. The scam is more authentic-looking than most, but it has tell-tale signs of fraud, such as not including my name or the name/address of a contact. Be vigilant!
(3) Neuroscientists claim that the stereotype that women are kinder than men is true: University of Zurich reserchers have confirmed this claim via experiments. They report their results in a paper entitled "The Dopaminergic Reward System Underpins Gender Differences in Social Preferences" (Nature Human Behavior, October 2017). A natural question is whether this is merely due to social conditioning or reveals some biological and/or neurological differences.
(4) Ten brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Tillerson characterizes China as a predatory rule breaker, 3 weeks before Trump's scheduled visit there.
- Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei says on President Trump: He is "foul-mouthed" and "pretends to be an idiot."
- Like President Donald Trump, Senator Ted Cruz spreads falsehoods about US corporate taxes.
- Some DC park benches have been rendered unusable by the homeless, apparently without authorization.
- The four most populous American cities all have teams in MLB playoffs (Yankees, Dodgers, Cubs, Astros).
- Two decades of progress: CGI has come a long way from 1997. [Image]
- On the perils of getting old and technologies becoming obsolete: 3D-printed version of the "save" icon!
- Professor Touraj Daryaee's 3-minute review of the history of the Persian Gulf and the origins of its name.
- Bread-bowl Pizza: A simple and fun dish to bake; works better with a round loaf of bread. [Photos]
- Potato lasagna: Made like meat lasagna, except that potato slices are used in lieu of pasta. [Photos]
(5) Achievement of quantum supremacy may be only months away: Quantum supremacy means achieving computational capability that is beyond the limits set by conventional computing. This supremacy need not be achieved in a general-purpose environment; it suffices to demonstrate it for a single or a very limited number of applications. It is thought that, for certain apllications, a 50-qubit quantum computer would outperform the most powerful supercomputers now in existence. Researchers at UCSB and Google are aiming to create a system that can support about 50 qubits in superposition reliably. If this can be done, the thinking goes, the rest is straightforward. So far, they have shown that a 9-qubit system, capable of representing 512 numbers at once, operates reliably and without the accompanying exponential increase in errors. There is no guarantee that the scheme can be extended to 50 qubits, but the team of researchers believes the extension to be possible in a matter of months.
(6) "The buck stops here": This phrase was made famous by Harry Truman, who considered himself responsible for whatever went wrong in the US government. Former President Obama took responsibility, used the phrase "the buck stops with me" many times, accepted his mistakes, and pledged to learn from them. President Trump passes the buck and blames everything and everyone for his failures (Fake News, Congress, Repubicans, Democrats, NFL, Obama, Clinton, McCain, ...).
(7) Grand opening of UCSB's state-of-the-art Bioengineering Building: Chancellor Yang, campus academic deans, research center directors, and several local industry leaders were present at today's celebration and ribbon-cutting ceremony. An important point made during introductory speeches was that, unlike many other institutions where bioengineering stands for biomedical engineering (dealing with the design and production of medical devices), UCSB's vision is much broader and includes a wide array of concepts and techniques at the intersection of biology and engineering. Examples include drug delivery mechanisms, mimicking nature in engineering designs, and biologically-inspired materials.

2017/10/18 (Wednesday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Photo intallation entitled 'Eyes of a Dreamer' (1) Eyes of a Dreamer: This photo installation across the US-Mexico border by French artist JR served as a massive table for an international picnic in September.
(2) The advent of gravitational-wave astronomy: In an exciting development, UCSB scientists, using data from a large network of observatories, were able to detect the collision of two neutron stars and use the info to pinpoint a small region of the sky to look for visual confirmation. The kilonova (1000 times brighter than a nova) observation would have been impossible without the hint about where to look.
(3) A Mars colony near Dubai: Mars Science City is a $140 million project funded by UAE which will be used to acclimate a team of astronauts to the harsh environment on Mars. The occupants will research food, water, and energy self-sufficiency. The colony is the first step in UAE's ambitious Mars 2117 project, which aims to establish a human colony on the red planet within a century.
(4) This Time magazine cover image, issue of October 16, 2017, reminds us that mass shootings fade from our memories, before they lead to preventive laws.
(5) Ten brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- The US took over possession of Alaska 150 years ago, today: Happy Alaska Day!
- French women start their own version of the #MeToo campaign: #BalanceTonPorc
- Mitch McConnell can't believe Donald Trump actually said that! [Interesting facial expression]
- Suspicious package led to bomb-threat investigation in Isla Vista, a student community adjacent to UCSB.
- In Trump's own words: Texas & Louisiana vs. Puerto Rico [Image; racist disaster aid].
- Feminism is alive and well in Iran: Protesting mandatory hijab by wearing white scarves on Wednesdays.
- Postmodern Jukebox has jazzed up many pop songs, but this one's really special: "All About That Bass"
- Young Paul McCartney visiting the late Iranian pop singer Viguen and enjoying aash-e reshteh. [Photos]
- German researchers resign from posts at Elsevier journals to protest resistance to an open-access policy.
- An example from "My Uncle Napoleon" as a metaphor for Iranians' sensitivity to the name "Persian Gulf"!
(6) US losses from anti-immigration policies are Mexico's gains: Some American companies are looking to expand their operations south of the border. Maybe they can afford to pay for the wall, after all!
(7) Bluegrass music at UCSB's Music Bowl: Santa-Barbara-based band "The Salt Martians" performed as part of the World Music Series (noon mini-concerts on Wednesdays). [Sample 1] [Sample 2] [Sample 3]

2017/10/17 (Tuesday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
The Beatles crossing Abbey Road in 1969 Bob Dylan, with his harmonica cigarette-holder in 1964 Fleetwood Mac band in 1979 (1) History in pictures: [Left] The Beatles crossing Abbey Road in 1969. [Center] Bob Dylan, with his harmonica cigarette-holder in 1964. [Right] Fleetwood Mac band in 1979.
(2) Quote of the day: "I'm an expert on personality disorders. I don't just know a media portrayal of Donald Trump. I have hundreds of hours of behavior that I have observed on video of his own words not mediated by anyone. I have more samples of behavior and speech from Donald Trump than most of my patients." ~ John Gartner, a psychotherapist, who taught psychiatric residents at Johns Hopkins University Medical School, and founder of the "Duty to Warn" PAC, whose goal is to get Trump impeached on account of his mental instability
(3) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Low unemployment and worker participation rates show mismatch between market needs and worker skills.
- By referring to the Persian Gulf as "Arabian," Trump has united factions of normally-feuding Iranians.
- Iranian Baha'i poet and teacher Mahvash Sabet honored with the International Writer of Courage Award.
- Californians favor greater emphasis on science and computing education in K-12 schools.
- Students are increasingly hiring professionals to write their college application essays.
- Breakfast, anyone? Cheese, nuts, and fruit make this plate an appetizing one! [Photographer unknown]
(4) If Trump's tax plan is implemented:
- The Trump Family will save billions in inheritance and other taxes, recovering all the money spent on the presidential bid several times over.
- The Koch Brothers will get a handsome return on their investment in funding far-right causes, institutions, and politicians for decades.
- Corporations that used every possible loophole to pay less in taxes will get additional breaks; these include Big Oil, Big Pharma, and Big Health.
- Income-tax cuts for the middle class, if any, will be more than eaten up by elimination of certain exemptions, increased healthcare costs (not just premiums, but also out of pocket costs), and cuts to social programs.
(5) The impotent despot: Iran's Supreme Leader has pardoned a man serving a jail term for insulting the prophet and the imams, but no one in the judiciary or Evin Prison is paying any attention to his decree.
(6) A most blatant lie: Asked why he had not reached out to the families of four fallen US soldiers in Africa, Trump began with a lie (he had written letters that had not yet been mailed) and followed up with a string of lies about former presidents not doing it either. Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama [photo] met with and personally comforted families as a matter of course.
(7) Half-baked nationalism: While accepting the Liberty Medal in Philadelphia on Monday night, Senator John McCain warned against turning toward "half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems."
[P.S.: In another report, Trump warned McCain to be careful, because at some point he will fight back.]

2017/10/16 (Monday): Here are five items of potential interest.
Trinity College library, Dublin, Ireland Snack service on a Scandinavian Airlines flight, 1969 Princess Fawzia Fuad of Egypt, the first wife of the last Shah of Iran, 1940s (1) History in pictures: [Left] Trinity College library, Dublin, Ireland. [Center] Snack service on a Scandinavian Airlines flight, 1969. [Right] Princess Fawzia Fuad of Egypt, the first wife of the last Shah of Iran, 1940s.
(2) A beautiful day and a new week begins: Besides opening my eyes to the colorful eastern sky in Goleta, I am glad that my waking up ended a dream that began fine but took a horrible turn. In the dream, I was trying to take a photo of gorgeous artwork inside a covered entryway and was about to give up, because of the poor lighting conditions, when a man approached me and offered to help make adjustments to my iPhone's camera settings to improve the image. He had in his hand what looked like an expensive camera, so I trusted him. You can guess the rest of the story. The funny thing is that as I was chasing him, l thought about all the time and effort needed to secure my accounts and recover lost data. I can now spend that time on something enjoyable on this hot Monday in Santa Barbara and Ventura areas.
(3) On the #MeToo movement: Since yesterday, many women have posted the Facebook status "Me Too," indicating that they too have experienced sexual harassment and/or assault. So, in solidarity, I am sharing this post of mine from a year ago today. In this essay entitled "Grab Her," a woman explains what it means to be groped, abused, chased, ignored, interrupted, talked over, talked down to, and feel unsafe when walking alone. In recent days, a number of men have posted stories about how they too were groped or assaulted as young men, implying that women can be predatory as well. I do accept their main point, but believe me when I say that the two experiences are not the same. I hope that someday they will become the same and the two sexes are treated equally and symmetrically. A day when all men start seeing women as human beings and not as objects of conquests; not as a brain and a bunch of other uninteresting body parts attached to the main sexual organs; a day when we men understand why a woman might keep a sexual assault under wraps for years or even take the secret to her grave.
[P.S.: I recommend watching the first 5-7 minutes of this 41-minute video, to hear Michelle Obama's take, in a speech of last year (more relevant than ever today), about the way women and girls are treated by many men. "This is not normal. This is not politics as usual. This is disgraceful and intolerable. ... No woman deserves to be treated this way."]
(4) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Ophelia: First-ever Atlantic storm to reach Ireland, has caused 3 deaths and widespread power outages.
- Massive double-car bombing kills at least 300 in Somalia. The terror group Al Shabab is being blamed.
- UCSB bows to changes in psychology by abolishing its BA program and offering BS degrees only.
- Just-opened walkway and bike path foretell the opening of UCSB's Bioengineering Building on Thu. 10/19.
- Cartoon caption of the day: Fortune cookie says "Someday you will die."
- Postmodern Jukebox transforms the Justin Bieber song "Love Yourself" into vintage-1929 New Orleans jazz.
(5) Childish name-calling among the Republicans: Trump has suddenly become friendly with Senator Rand Paul, whom he once called "Gollum" (animal-like creature from "Lord of the Rings"), and Senator Lindsey Graham, who has referred to Trump as "jackass." Meanwhile, Rex Tillerson, who refused to deny for the second time on Sunday that he called Trump "a moron" is on thin ice, judging by past Trump reactions towards those who cross or insult him.

2017/10/15 (Sunday): Here are six items of potential interest.
The sun shines through NYC's Grand Central Terminal in 1929, before it was surrounded by tall buildings Paper money recovered from the Titanic German kid with a portable lemonade stand, 1931 (1) History in pictures: [Left] The sun shines through NYC's Grand Central Terminal windows in 1929, before it was surrounded by tall buildings. [Center] Paper money recovered from the Titanic. [Right] German kid with a portable lemonade stand, 1931.
(2) Quote of the day: "The world is increasingly designed to depress us. Happiness isn't very good for the economy. ... To be calm becomes a kind of revolutionary act. To be happy with your own non-upgraded existence. To be comfortable with our messy, human selves, would not be good for business." ~ Matt Haig
(3) Is English the new tool of world dominance for America? In a way, by spreading cultural symbols and weakening local languages, English does seem to be expanding hegemony. Yet, when I look at my own case, learning English and, more recently, developing a passion for it, has opened my eyes and helped me, both personally and professionally. A "world language" is not only helpful, but inevitable. And, even though a newly-designed synthetic language may be a better choice, past failures in this domain have led to the de facto choice of English. Learning a second language is a time-intensive undertaking, so, it is very natural that people would choose one that carries some tangible benefits. For example, people in southern US tend to choose Spanish. China's economic progress and its becoming a world power has motivated many to learn Chinese.
(4) Talk is cheap, results matter: I am very surprised that a number of seemingly educated Trump supporters are jumping for joy at his recent words and actions regarding healthcare. Talk is cheap, results matter (look at the beautiful, tall wall that was supposed to be built along the US-Mexico border, with Mexican funding). The glee of the healthy about being able to pay less for less coverage is misguided. As we know from people around us, a healthy person can turn into a sick person overnight. The 2018 ACA premiums had been set before the recent Trump words and actions. I will talk to supporters of Trump's healthcare actions in late 2018, once the 2019 rates and coverage limits have been published.
(5) Video showing the devastation in Santa Rosa, California: Blocks and blocks of burned homes.
(6) On-skin interfaces: These interfaces constitute one of the two cover features in the October 2017 issue of IEEE Computer. The feature has an introduction by the guest editor, along with the following two articles.
- "On-Skin Interactions Using Body Landmarks": As a surface for input to computers, the human skin differs fundamentally from existing touch-sensitive devices. This article discusses the use of skin landmarks (anatomical characteristics, body adornments, and the like) that offer unique tactile and visual cues, to enhance body-based user interfaces.
- "Interactive Systems Based on Electrical Muscle Stimulation": EMS has been used since the 1960s in rehabilitative medicine to regenerate lost motor functions, but researchers have started to explore new EMS applications including guided training, muscle-propelled force feedback, novel forms of information access, and human-computer interaction.

2017/10/14 (Saturday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
T-shirt with the message 'Avoid Negativity' T-shirt with the message 'Intelligence is the Ability to Adapt to Change' T-shirt with the message 'That's How I Roll' (1) Scientists and engineers, flaunting their opinions on their T-shirts! [All three images on Facebook]
(2) Message to my oldest son, on the occasion of his 33rd birthday: A very happy 33rd birthday to you! Thirty-three is an interesting number, both mathematically and historically. It is 3 x 11, or (11)_10 x (11)_10, where the first (11)_10 is the base-2 representation of 3 and the second one is the base-10 representation of 11. Thirty-three is the sum of the first four positive factorials, 33 = 1! + 2! + 3! + 4! It is XXXIII in Roman numerals and 100001 in binary (the latter is a fact I will use for cake candles). It was the RPM speed of old phonograph LP records, which you likely have never seen! Speaking of records, 33 is the number of innings played in the longest baseball game on record. Finally, according to Al-Ghazali, the dwellers of heaven will exist eternally in a state of being age 33. [The Magic Number 33] [Photo set 1] [Photo set 2] [Photo set 3]
(3) The magic of TED talks: Here is a wonderful, quite funny, 19-minute TED talk about how our schools kill creativity: Try to imagine Shakespeare as a 7-year-old, being taught by an English teacher! And here is a second wonderful 18-minute TED talk about why we have trouble admitting that we are wrong.
(4) After income and wealth gaps, comes activity gap: A Stanford study, based on the smartphone data of 717,527 people worldwide over 68 million days of activity, has produced interesting results, including the fact that women walk far less than men. "While media coverage focused on the overall results (generating headlines such as Do YOU live in the world's laziest country?), the study shed new light on an important health inequality issue. The researchers found that high 'activity inequality'—where a country has a wide gap between those who walk a lot and those who walk very little—was a strong predictor for a nation's obesity levels among the 47 countries studied."
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- California leads again: Puppy breeding is banned by a new law. Pet stores must sell only rescue animals.
- Book bans precursors to book burnings: What is the moral justification for banning an anti-racism book?
- Death toll of Santa Rosa area fires reaches 40: Ill effects of climate change on full display. [Aerial photo]
- Usetul tip for pre-planning of hors d'oeuvres set-up for entertaining at home or taking plates to pot-lucks.
- Cartoons of day: Couldn't decide between the two, so I am posting both. [Images]
- Who is this baby actor? A tough one, but not impossible to identify, if you look carefully at facial features.
(6) The power of meaning: This is the title of a free lecture (to be presented by Emily Esfahani Smith at UCSB's Campbell Hall on Thursday, November 30, 2017, 7:30 PM) and of a book being given away on campus for the occasion. Looking forward to attending the talk.
(7) Donald Trump claims he spoke to the President of the Virgin Islands (did he speak to himself?). Rick Perry thinks that Puerto Rico is a country. This is a match made in heaven! As the Iranian Azeri saying goes, "bilah dig, bilah choghondar"!

2017/10/13 (Friday the 13th): Here are seven items of potential interest.
A gypsy-owned, horse-drawn caravan from the mid 1800s (1) History in pictures: Luxurious and colorful gypsy-owned, horse-drawn caravan from the mid-1800s.
(2) The 2017 ACM Turing Lecture: I logged on to listen to Silvio Micali's Turing Lecture entitled "Algorand: A Better Shared Ledger," as it was streaming live, beginning at 12:00 noon EDT (9:00 AM PDT) today. Very briefly, Algorand offers a computationally faster and less energy-intensive replacement for BitCoin-like distributed ledgers, while maintaining their security and trustworthiness. Unfortunately, the on-line presentation (screenshot) left much to be desired, in terms of sound quality and the fact that slides did not advance due to a platform snag. If ACM and other professional organizations are serious about spreading the benefits of on-line learning, they should do a better job of developing the needed user-friendly and aesthetically alluring platforms. I will pursue the off-line version of the lecture later and will present a brief report on it.
(3) The San Francisco Bay Area is suffering from very poor air quality: Raging fires have not only caused at least 30 deaths and immense loss of property, but they are threatening the health of millions.
(4) One-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- The marriage loophole for having sex with underage girls seems to be closing in India.
- The American Dream more accessible if you live in Denmark or Finland.
- Friends of Bill & Melinda Gates raise $30M for a U. Washington building, to be named after the couple.
- Cartoon of the day: Deadly California fires sadden and overwhelm Smokey the Bear. [Image]
- Three hurricanes, two earthquakes, and multiple major fires have stretched Direct Relief to the max.
- The doomsday eruption of of Yellowstone supervolcano may occur sooner than previously thought.
- Google commits $1 billion in grants to train US workers for high-tech jobs.
- This is a tough one: Who is this guy? [Hint: The word "guy" in the question is a subtle hint.]
- Bruce Arena resigns as coach of the US men's soccer team after failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
- Stats for the 9/16 Day of Caring: 49 UCSB volunteers removed 1104 lbs of junk from 6 miles of IV streets.
- Gravity-defying statues. [Pictorial]
- Sign seen at a protest march: "Without Science It's Just Fiction." [Photo]
(5) White Christian male caught one week ago by a bomb-sniffing dog at a North Carolina airport: This bomb-planting is news to you? There were no tweets about the would-be bomber? The title of my post explains why.
(6) Trump finds the First-Amendment guarantee of the right to free speech disgusting; and his oath of office included an explicit pledge to safeguard free speech! He wrote in a tweet: "It's frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write, and people should look into it."
(7) Europeans on the nuclear deal with Iran: While stressing that they are also worried about Iran's destabilizing influence in the region, they see no need for pulling or renegotiating the nuclear deal, to which Iran has adhered by all measures. If the US reimposes sanctions on Iran, the EU will be more than happy to replace Boeing planes with Airbus models and to take over in other high-tech trade areas.

2017/10/12 (Thursday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Robert Kennedy in a drive-in diner, 1960 The exact spot where JFK was killed in Dallas Theodore Roosevelt becoming the first president to ride in an automobile, 1902 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Robert Kennedy in a drive-in diner, 1960. [Center] The exact spot where President John F. Kennedy was killed in Dallas; this is the last scene he saw. [Right] Theodore Roosevelt becoming the first president to ride in an automobile, 1902.
(2) Donald Trump makes up a story about the firing of his Chief of Staff John Kelly and then blames the media for it: No major news outlet had reported such a thing! According to Washington Post, Trump has made 1318 false or misleading claims over 263 days, for an average of 5 per day.
(3) Trump claims that the recent stock market gains are erasing the national debt: You'd think that a "successful businessman" would know something about economics, but you'd be wrong! Whoever is giving him these talking points is doing him no favor.
(4) US soccer shocker: For the first time in three decades, Team USA will not go to the soccer World Cup tournament. The embarrassing 1-2 loss to Trinidad and Tobago (last-place team in the qualifying group, with one win in 9 games) eliminated the US from the 2018 competition in Moscow. The United States would have qualified with a win or a tie. But a US loss, combined with Panama and Honduras winning over Costa Rica and Mexico, respectively, meant elimination.
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Ancient hieroglyphs discovered in Turkey solve the mystery of the Biblical Mediterranean "Sea People."
- California couple, 100 and 98, married for 75 years, are two of the 21 people who perished in NorCal fires.
- With fires raging in both NorCal and SoCal, Santa Barbara also gets a red-flag warning for high fire danger.
- Cartoon of the day: The life of a memoirist. [Image]
- Farhang Foundation's Shab-e Yalda: An event of interest, although I'm not sure I will be able to attend.
- Eerie face-paintings and other 3D illusions created by make-up artists for Halloween.
(6) Why Amazon is different from many other high-tech businesses: Yes, Amazon deals in information, as do Google and Microsoft, but it "was never a completely virtual business," observes Michael A. Cusumano in the October 2017 issue of Communications of the ACM. Amazon began operating out of a warehouse and now, with the opening of its own stores and acquisition of Whole Foods, is moving further away from virtuality and closer to a physically-based company. Bezos likes to experiment and innovate to expand his company's reach, and, at least in the short term, isn't motivated by profits.
(7) The anonymous designer of this meme about Trump did not mince any words!
(8) Quote of the day: "If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein." ~ From a US Supreme Court decision of 1943

2017/10/11 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
International Day of the Girl banner (1) On this International Day of the Girl, let us pledge to give girls (and boys) every opportunity they need to become tomorrow's leaders.
(2) A probability problem for serious geeks: It is about self-correcting random walks (the random-walking drunk is replaced with one having limited control).
(3) Will computers ever be able to think like humans? This has been a longstanding question in the field of artificial intelligence. In a wHaray, this question may be misguided. A recent interview with Douglas Hofstadter has brought this question to the forefront again. In the words of the late computer scientist Edsger Dijkstra, "The question of whether Machines Can Think ... is about as relevant as the question of whether Submarines Can Swim." Dijkstra's point was that planes do not fly like birds and submarines do not swim like fish, yet they are both quite useful in allowing humans to do tasks they aren't capable of doing by themselves. So why do we expect that computers should think like humans? The key question is whether computers can act like intelligent assistants to us, rather then whether they can replace us.
(4) Three cheers for American immigrants: Now that all Nobel Prizes for 2017 have been announced, it is time for some reflection. Approximately 40% of US Nobel Laureates in physics, chemistry, and medicine since 2000 have been immigrants (12 of 30 in physics; 11 of 29 in chemistry; 10 of 26 in medicine).
(5) The new MacArthur "Genius Grant" honorees are as diverse as they come, from both social and disciplinary points of view.
(6) Jimmy Kimmel responds to Donald Trump Jr.'s tweet: Junior asked Kimmel if he had any thoughts on Harvey Weinstein, the movie industry mogul ousted from the company that bears his name, owing to serious allegations of sexual misconduct (something conservatives are trying to exploit, given that Weinstein was a major donor to the Democratic Party and liberal politicians, conveniently forgetting their own association with the sexual-predator-in-chief). Here's what Kimmel wrote: "You mean that big story from the failing, liberal, one-sided @nytimes? I think it is disgusting."
(7) NAE announces winners of 2017 Ramo Founders and Bueche Awards for extraordinary impact on the engineering profession: National Academy of Engineering's Ramo Founders Award went to John E. Hopcroft, widely regarded as one of the most influential computer scientists. NAE's Bueche Award was given to Louis J. Lanzerotti "for his contributions to technology research, policy, and national and international cooperation."
(8) Iranian women and men unite in protesting mandatory hijab laws by wearing white on Wednesdays. [Photo credit: "My Stealthy Freedom" Facebook page]
(9) Growth at the cost of poisoning people: EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt wants to repeal Obama's 2015 Clean Power Plan, which was put in place to cut carbon emissions by 30%. Released from the bonds of environmental regulations, some mines and manufacturing plants may become profitable and thus expand to create jobs, but at what cost? Workers in these industries as well as other Americans will be exposed to harmful emissions that will adversely affect their health, at precisely the same time when healthcare protections are being sabotaged by the administrations. Future generations will be left to pay for these shortsighted policies, which are reminiscent of corporate focus on quarterly statements and stock prices undermining long-term results.

2017/10/10 (Tuesday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
An East German border guard offering a flower through a gap in the Berlin Wall on the morning it fell, 1989 Freed slaves by a canal in Richmond, Virginia, 1865 German soldiers cut off the beard of an old Jewish man (1) History in pictures: [Left] An East German border guard offering a flower through a gap in the Berlin Wall on the morning it fell, 1989. [Center] Freed slaves by a canal in Richmond, Virginia, 1865. [Right] German soldiers cut off the beard of an old Jewish man.
(2) The delay is troubling: The Clintons and Barack Obama are being rightly criticized for staying mum on recent allegations of sexual misconduct against Harvey Weinstein, a major contributor to their political campaigns. They will no doubt say something soon, but the delay in making statements is troubling, especially in the case of Hillary Clinton, a champion of women's rights. [Image]
[P.S.: By the end of the day, condemnation statements from Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were issued.]
(3) Northern California fires burning out of control: The containment level is 0%, because of high winds and dry conditions making the fires burn super-hot and spread super-fast. Some residents, who were waken up by smoke, escaped with literally seconds to spare (a number of cars caught fire as they were being driven out of the area). There are at least 15 dead, hundreds missing, and 2000 structures destroyed. This image shows a neighborhood in Santa Rosa before and after the fire. There are aslo fires raging in Anaheim, close to Disneyland in Southern California.
(4) Europeans are making fun of our Nonsensical Rifle Addiction (NRA) and suggest that NRA Anonymous can help deal with the problem! [3-minute video]
(5) Tehran's Thakht-e Jamshid Street in the 1960s: I believe the two views are looking west and east from Kaakh Circle. If so, in the color photo, a couple of blocks away on the right, was Ferdowsi Elementary School, which I attended, and the 2-story brick building on the right contained a small grocery store ("bagh'aali") where we sometimes bought snacks during lunch hour. Across the street from Ferdowsi School were a stationary store, a sandwich shop, and various street vendors. The street ended at the eastern boundary of Tehran University. In the black-and-white photo, a couple of blocks past the tall Oil Ministry Building, and on the same side of the street, was the US Embassy.
(6) Imprisoned British-Iranian woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe faces additional charges from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps that would be punishable by 16 more years in prison, reports Maziar Bahari on Iranwire. Apparently, IRGC are using Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe's case as a threat to gain leverage over President Rouhani and his government.
(7) The risks of artificial intelligence (AI): For decades, we have been working to make computers more trustworthy, primarily by increasing their predictability and auditability. The entire field of dependable computing emerged in the early 1970s, and continues to be an active area of research, including for yours truly, to ensure that computers behave according to their specs and that any deviation from the expected behavior can be readily detected and subjected to remedial action. Now, AI builds unpredictability into our computers and computer-based systems, making it difficult, if not impossible, to monitor and check their behaviors against pre-supplied specs. In an interesting "Inside Risks" column in Communications of the ACM, issue of October 2017 (pp. 27-31), long-time software-engineering expert David Lorge Parnas chimes in on the dangers of AI, including heuristic algorithms, to system trustworthiness.

2017/10/09 (Monday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Jesse Owens winning a gold medal in Nazi Germany's 1936 Olympics Tollund Man, a perfectly preserved 2300-year-old corpse A copy of Uthman's Quran from the early 600s, kept in Topkapi Palace in Istanbul (1) History in pictures: [Left] Jesse Owens winning a gold medal in Nazi Germany's 1936 Olympics. [Center] Tollund Man, a perfectly preserved 2300-year-old corpse. [Right] A copy of Uthman's Quran from the early 600s, kept in Topkapi Palace in Istanbul.
(2) Wonkavators allow architects to be more creative: By moving up and down and sideways without using cables, they free architects from the constraint of strictly vertical skyscrapers and the height limit dictated by cable weight and extreme area waste due to many elevator shafts. With Wonkavators, many cabins can be moving in one shaft.
(3) First US exascale computer to be built by 2021: The project, dubbed "Aurora," is a modification and extension of an earlier plan to deliver 180-200 petaflops by 2018. The change came about because the US Department of Energy was disappointed in the inability of an Intel/Cray partnership to fulfill its objectives.
(4) The wonderful music of James Bond films: The plots may be unbelievable and the special effects (until fairly recently) cheesy, but the music is always first-rate, thanks to the foundation laid by John Barry.
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Trump's treating the presidency like "The Apprentice" could lead to WW III, says Senator Bob Corker.
- Most-destructive fires in state's history raging in northern California: Ten dead, 1500 structures lost
- NYT reporter claims her story exposing Harvey Weinstein's sexual misconduct was quashed in 2004.
- Tops of UCSB parking structures were retrofitted with solar panels as part of our green energy initiative.
- Brutal murder, posted on social media, shocks Iran: A young man was bludgeoned, then burned to death.
- South Korea can now build graphite bombs, non-lethal weapons for taking down N. Korea's power system.
(6) Ideas that lead to Nobel Prizes aren't always accepted at first: Here is a list of 8 papers that were rejected at first but later won the world's most prestigious scientific award.
(7) What is blockchain? I pursued this question and am sharing a summary of my findings here. An introductory article (by T. Aste, P. Tasca, T. di Mateo) in the September 2017 special issue of IEEE Computer magazine begins thus: "Blockchain is a technology that uses community validation to keep synchronized the content of ledgers replicated across multiple users. Although blockchain derives its origins from technologies introduced decades ago, it has gained popularity with Bitcoin."
People trust regular currency, because it is difficult to forge and occasional forgers are vigorously prosecuted. If you claim that you have a certain amount of money, and actually have that amount of money, the claim is verifiable by trusted sources that keep track of financial transactions. In the case of Bitcoin, transactions are broadcast to a network and their validity is verified by peers. Once validated, transactions are collected into blocks that are cryptographically sealed. The blocks are then competitively interlocked like a chain, hence the name. There is no central authority; everything is fully distributed.
In essence, blockchain allows machines to act as intermediaries between humans that do not trust each other. Blockchain is an important special case of distributed ledger technologies, which include other methods of decentralized record-keeping and data-sharing across multiple servers. The winner of this year's ACM Turing Award, Silvio Micali, will talk about "Algorand: A Better Distributed Ledger" on Friday, October 13, 2017, beginning at 12:00 noon EDT. You can sign up to hear the lecture without being an ACM member.
(8) The 2017 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences: The Prize went to Richard H. Thaler (U. Chicago) for integrating economics with psychology, founding the field of behavioral economics which replaces rational decision-making with limited rationality, social preferences, and lack of self-control.

2017/10/08 (Sunday): Here are five items of potential interest.
New York City, circa 1900 New York City's Times Square in 1903 Paris in 1900 (1) History in pictures: [Left] New York, circa 1900. [Center] NYC's Times Square, 1903. [Right] Paris, 1900.
(2) Practical solution to the problem of guns in the US: If NFL athletes, instead of kneeling, stand up during the National Anthem while holding a rifle above the head, we will have gun control legislation by halftime! ["The Daily Show" video clip]
(3) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Driver and several others taken to hospital, as truck crashes into the side of a Santa Barbara restaurant.
- This must be the brand of paper towels Trump threw at Puerto Ricans during his visit to the island!
- Clever "Black Lives Matter" T-shirt for science buffs.
- Hurricane Nate's projected path and timeline. [Map]
- A very Parisian way to avoid floodwaters! [B&W photo]
- Rows 1-3 of a triangle are shown in this image. What would the 100th row be if we extend the triangle?
(4) California Avocado Festival: Like many other festivals in the US, this one is mostly about food! Aromas of BBQ and guacamole were very enticing, but I had eaten just before arriving, so they weren't difficult to resist. Being outdoors on a gorgeous day and doing some walking made the trip worthwhile for me. [Music video]
(5) Today's talk about Iran at UCLA (4:00 PM, 121 Dodd Hall): Dr. Kamran Talattof (U. Arizona) delivered the talk "Sexuality and Cultural Change in Iranian Cinema" under the auspices of the UCLA Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran, that began its 2017-2018 program today. Tomorrow, Dr. Talattof will present an English lecture entitled "What Kind of Wine Did Rudaki Fancy" (2:00 PM, 348 UCLA Humanities Building). The lecture series, under the directorship of Dr. Nayereh Tohidi, has become quite popular and serves an important need of Southern California's large Iranian-American community and others who are interested in learning about Iran.
In his research, Dr. Talattof focuses on issues of gender, sexuality, ideology, culture, language pedagogy, and creation of cultural artifacts. Among his many publications is the award-winning volume Modernity, Sexuality, and Ideology in Iran: The Life and Legacy of a Popular Female Artist, which tells the story of Shahrzad, a dancer, actress, filmmaker, and poet, who performed in theater productions, became an acclaimed film star, flirted with journalism and poetry, was imprisoned after the Islamic Revolution, and eventually became homeless on the streets of Tehran. Today's talk can be viewed as an elaboration and expansion on a small part of the latter book.
Dr. Talattof began with a discussion of modernity in Iran and why, despite significant efforts over the past century, it has never really taken hold. There are various theories as to why anti-modernity forces were able to foil attempts at establishing true modernity. As a result, Iranian society has become what Dr. Talattof terms "modernoid": having the outward appearances of modernity, without exhibiting its key characteristics and benefits. His thesis is that lack of attention to, or insufficient treatment of, issues of sexuality is one of the main factors that inhibits progress toward true modernity. In film and cinema, we find excellent examples that allow us to formulate and analyze this problem. Cinema has a long tradition in Iran. It took hold and was viewed as a serious art form shortly after its introduction in Iran, to the point of being deemed on par with poetry and other traditional art forms dear to Iranians.
In the 1960s and 1970s, a decadent form of cinema, named derisively as "FilmFarsi" (literally, "PersianFilm") spread and formed the basis of a profitable and prolific film industry. The formulaic stories of these films often had a poor or rich girl wanting to marry a man belonging to the opposite social class, a man falling for a cabaret dancer or prostitute (the two being viewed as one and the same in Iranian culture of the day), and slapstick comedies, a la "Three Stooges." Women were routinely objectified and depicted as weak, dependent souls who needed the protection of the male protagonist. Manliness was a recurring theme and a big part of many movie plots, where a man's authority or virility was threatened, only to be restored by the end of the film.
FilmFarsi titles were often not shown in top-notch movie theaters, because they were frowned upon by most intellectuals, who preferred foreign films (usually dubbed into Persian). Although depiction of sex and sexuality was by no means explicit, some films were viewed as going too far in their partial nudity and suggestive dialog, given Iran's social norms at the time.
In fact, Dr. Talattof's examination of official documents of that era has revealed that certain government officials openly worried about film depiction of female characters (and the giant, sexually arousing posters that graced movie-theater marquees) had gone too far and likely to create a backlash within the society's conservative elements. These excesses of the film industry are some of the key elements often cited for the success of Islamic Revolution and for cinema becoming dormant for several years after the Revolution. In fact, revolutionaries resorted to burning movie theaters to show their distaste for what they considered decadent forms of culture promoted by the Shah and by his Western allies.
The movie "Gheisar" is often cited as a turning point because of its treatment of more important social issues, although it still had some of FilmFarsi elements. Subsequently, serious filmmakers appeared on the scene and Iranian art films began to make a good showing at international venues and festivals.
The story of Iranian cinema after the Revolution is quite interesting. After the initial hiatus, films emerged that tackled the safe subjects of Shah's secret police, ridiculing the leftists and intellectuals, and later, depicting the Iran-Iraq war. Within a few years, filmmakers had gathered the courage to make films about relationships, social issues such as poverty, and cultural dichotomies, without being overtly political. They often had to change the story-line or dialog to satisfy the censors.
An important challenge for post-revolutionary filmmakers was the depiction of intimate relationships. A man taking a woman home (of course, after officially entering into temporary-marriage with her) would open the door, with the couple going in and the door closing behind them, as the camera remains fixed on the closed door. A scene happening in the bedroom of a married couple presented similar challenges. It would be utterly artificial for the woman to appear in bed with a manteau and headscarf, so the filmmaker had to find alternatives, such as filming in the dark.
One of the remarkable feats of Iranian cinema in recent decades has been the filmmakers' ability to tell interesting and complex stories in the face of restrictions on content and appearance of actors/actresses. Many influential filmmakers have emerged, each with his/her own ingenious schemes for getting around the myriad restrictions, while still telling an interesting story.
The 105-minute lecture was longer than usual, in part because Dr. Talattof showed several film clips to exemplify the points he wanted to make. A brief question-and-answer period ensued, before we had to leave the lecture hall a few minutes after 6:00 PM. [Photos of the speaker and movie posters]

2017/10/07 (Saturday): Here are five items of potential interest.
Cover image of Candice Bergen's 'A Fine Romance' (1) Book review: Bergen, Candice, A Fine Romance, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by the author, Simon & Schuster Audio, 2015.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
In this intelligently-written book, a follow-up to her best-selling autobiography (Knock Wood), Bergen begins with her marriage to French director Louis Malle, and covers a number of subsequent events in her life: The birth of her daughter, Chloe, her successful and controversial TV series "Murphy Brown" (1988-1998), losing Malle to cancer, finding love again with New York real estate magnate Marshall Rose, and raising her daughter to become an independent adult.
Bergen's writing style is charming, honest, and funny. She does come across as privileged and a tad whiny on occasion, but these are small blemishes on an otherwise wonderful book. Of course, the faults are easier to forgive if, like me, you are an admirer of Bergen's acting talent, comic chops, and looks.
Bergen, like Mary Tyler Moore before her, came to represent the modern, liberated, independent, opinionated, professional woman through her TV persona, and thus got into scuffles with the likes of Vice-President Dan Quayle, when her Murphy Brown character decided to have a child without getting married and defied other social norms of her days.
Other readers' opinions about this book are quite varied, with assessments ranging from "painfully boring" to "entertaining and well-written." Many readers who did not like this book praised Bergen's earlier memoir.
(2) Ten brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Helicopters mimic drones to become safer and easier to fly. [Annotated image: E&T magazine]
- High-winds test: Here's how a typical US home would fare under 100 mph wind.
- Erasing data won't erase the problems: FEMA removed Puerto Rico's unflattering stats from its Web site.
- Logical answer to an ignorant tweet about trucks and guns!
- To-do list, attributed to the late country music star Johnny Cash: He likely meant it as a joke.
- Cartoon of the day: Ant identification. [By John Atkinson]
- Caught a wonderful musical performance last night on PBS SoCal (KOCE). [Sample 1] [Sample 2]
- Tillerson's exit will cost Trump dearly: But that high cost is unlikely to save his job.
- In a thwarted plan, three ISIS-inspired men wanted to bomb NYC's landmarks, the subway, and concerts.
- Can solar solve Puerto Rico's electric-power problems? Elon Musk thinks so and has offered a proposal.
(3) Three teens arrested in Carpinteria (near Santa Barbara): One Carpinteria High student had posted a photo with a firearm along with a threatening text. The other two, identified when the first teen was investigated, also face firearms-related charges.
(4) Trump's tweet of October 7, 2017, 5:04 AM: "More and more people are suggesting that Republicans (and me) should be given Equal Time on T.V. when you look at the one-sided coverage?"
My response: By ending the tweet with a question mark, you seem to agree that your demand is questionable. Anyway, I'm sure they would be glad to comply, if you too gave them equal time on your Twitter feed!
(5) This afternoon at Santa Barbara's La Cumbre Plaza: On a relatively hot day, a keyboardist played tunes from The Great American Songbook [Sample 1] [Sample 2] and people were enjoying various activities, such as reading (me), oversized board games, and more.

2017/10/06 (Friday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Sexy Albert Einstein in 1932 A group of samurai from Japan visiting the Sphinx in Egypt, 1863 An 8-year-old coal miner in the early 1900s (1) History in pictures: [Left] Sexy Albert Einstein in 1932! [Center] A group of samurai from Japan visiting the Sphinx in Egypt, 1863. [Right] An 8-year-old coal miner in the early 1900s.
(2) Cats behaving badly: In Australia, cats kill one million birds per day: Some bird species are facing possible extinction as a result.
(3) Ten brief news headlines from Time magazine on-line:
- ICAN, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear weapons, was awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.
- Tropical storm Nate is moving north to threaten New Orleans and other Gulf Coast regions in the US.
- NRA chief blames Hollywood for Las Vegas mass shooting (I guess he forgot to mention fake news)!
- After dining with US military leaders, Trump characterizes the meeting as "the calm before the storm."
- Hawaii, the first state to challenge Trump's earlier travel bans, takes on the new ban in court.
- Robert Meuller's team interviews former British spy Christopher Steele (of the "Trump Dossier" fame).
- US-based employees of the Kremlin-linked Russia Today news service are leaving in droves.
- Elon Musk's Tesla company offers to fix Puerto Rico's energy crisis with solar panels and batteries.
- Huge celestial fireball appears in the night sky, as Superboldie Meteorite explodes over China.
- Twelve-mile-wide comet, the furthest such observation, has been spotted hurtling towards the sun.
(4) Gun control and safety: How did a serious discussion of gun control and safety deteriorate into passing legislation banning a single device that converts semi-automatic rifles into automatic ones? Yes, the bump-stock device was responsible for massive deaths and injuries in Las Vegas, but in the grand scheme of things, the total number of deaths that would be prevented by banning the said device is a tiny fraction of all gun deaths. Very few mass shootings involve automatic or converted semi-automatic rifles. And the bulk of gun deaths are not from mass shootings. A good chunk of gun deaths results from children finding guns at home and "accidentally" shooting themselves or a relative. Don't get me wrong, such a ban would be great, but only as part of comprehensive gun control legislation.
(5) The first paragraph from Abraham Flexner's 1939 article, "The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge," on which a 2017 book by the same name (see my blog for Wednesday 2017/10/04), is based:
"Is it not a curious fact that in a world steeped in irrational hatreds which threaten civilization itself, men and women—old and young—detach themselves wholly or partly from the angry current of daily life to devote themselves to the cultivation of beauty, to the extension of knowledge, to the cure of disease, to the amelioration of suffering, just as though fanatics were not simultaneously engaged in spreading pain, ugliness, and suffering? The world has always been a sorry and confused sort of place—yet poets and artists and scientists have ignored the factors that would, if attended to, paralyze them. From a practical point of view, intellectual and spiritual life is, on the surface, a useless form of activity, in which men indulge because they procure for themselves greater satisfactions that are otherwise obtainable. In this paper I shall concern myself with the question of the extent to which the pursuit of these useless satisfactions proves unexpectedly the source from which undreamed-of utility is derived."
Puzzle regarding a fractal shape (6) [As bad news keeps piling up, here is my sign-off post for today to distract you, if you are so inclined!] Math puzzle: Start with an equilateral triangle (image 0 on the left), divide each side of length 1 into 3 equal segments, and replace the middle segment with two segments of the same length that bulge out (image 1, after one step). This will increase the perimeter of the figure from 3 to 4. Repeat this process for 9 more steps (the next two steps, images 2 and 3, are also shown). What is the perimeter of the 10th figure?

2017/10/05 (Thursday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Screenshot of ResearchGate showing 1511 reads for my article (1) An article of mine has been read by over 1500 people on just one research site: My research publications tend to be highly specialized and are often read by at most a few dozens of researchers with technical interests similar to mine. So, it surprised me to find out that "Low Acceptance Rates of Conference Papers Considered Harmful" (IEEE Computer, Vol. 49, No. 4, pp. 70-73, April 2016), which is somewhat more general in scope and less technical in content, has been read 1511 times already on ResearchGate. This is, in part, thanks to prominent social-media users posting about and discussing it.
(2) At one point, I was hoping for Rex Tillerson's resignation: Now, I hope he stays. According to retiring Senator Bob Corker, Tillerson, Mattis, and Kelly are the only obstacles to chaos in our country.
(3) Examples of posters, from Southern California (left) and Nice, France, announcing the celebration of the ancient Iranian festival of autumn. [Image]
(4) Communication between smart cars: When a car is driving right behind another one, its view of the road ahead is limited. It is possible to acquire a complete view by communicating with the car driving ahead. So, the parallel with the saying "two heads are better than one" is "two smart cars are better than one"!
(5) Iraqi Kurds celebrate the huge 98% approval in their independence referendum, but the practical implications of this win remain unclear. [Photo credit: Time magazine]
(6) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting finds on the Internet:
- The 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature goes to Kazuo Ishiguro, whose novels include The Remains of the Day.
- Here's what the official NRA magazine @AmericanHunter tweeted hours before the Las Vegas mass murder.
- Las Vegas mass shooting: Some memes and cartoons.
- Who was the genius behind the idea that the POTUS should throw paper-towel rolls at Puerto Ricans?
- Lone wolves gather in the wild to issue a joint statement: "Stop comparing crazy white mass shooters to us!"
- The perfect gift for your favorite nerd this Christmas. ["Oh Chemis Tree" T-shirt]
(7) Artificial intelligence benefits outweigh risks: According to Google engineering director Ray Kurzweil, AI will be far more beneficial than harmful, and the "singularity" when computers overtake human intelligence should be welcomed. Kurzweil bases his opinion on human history, where technological innovation has helped humanity more often than worsened it. While Kurzweil acknowledges that all technologies pose risks and that the risks of powerful ones (biotechnology, nanotechnology, AI) are potentially existential, he is certain that the elimination of certain trades will be offset by the creation of new types of jobs. "It creates a difficult political issue because you can look at people driving cars and trucks, and you can be pretty confident those jobs will go away. And you can't describe the new jobs, because they're in industries and concepts that don't exist yet."
(8) Faculty Research Lecture: Annually, UCSB honors one of its faculty members by asking the honoree to deliver a general-audience public lecture. Today, at Corwin Pavilion, Professor Charles E. Samuel, of our MCDB Department, spoke under the title "Viral Threats to Humankind: Antivirals and Lessons Learned from Interferons." Much progress has been made in developing virus-specific vaccines, to the extent that some viral afflictions have been eradicated. However, we do not have vaccines for all viruses and, in many cases, no treatment once the illness sets in. A potent anti-viral agent, interferon, discovered in 1957, interferes with virus growth (non-virus-type-specific) and provides a first line of defense for the human body. Whereas I understood the main message of the talk and the importance of interferons, I was disappointed with the pace and tone of the speaker, which was quite inappropriate for a public talk to an audience of mostly non-specialists.

2017/10/04 (Wednesday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Cover image for Abraham Flexner's book 'The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge' (1) Book introduction for science buffs: Flexner, Abraham, with a companion essay by Robert Dijkgraaf, The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge, Princeton University Press, 2017.
The thesis of this book is that focusing solely on short-term applied research is misguided. We should strike a balance between applied and basic research. Basic research that seems to be useless today will inevitably turn valuable in future. For example, the invention of radio is often credited to Guglielmo Marconi, but earlier experimentation and theoretical development by Faraday, Hertz, and Maxwell should not be forgotten. Here is an article by the author from 1939 making the exact same point. Flexner lived from 1866 to 1959, so this book presents some of his work from decades ago, along with modern examples that confirm his thesis.
(2) Engineering identified as the top major for world's wealthiest people: Among the world's top 100 wealthiest people, the largest number (22) have majored in engineering. The list includes Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Larry Page of Google. [Source: Business Insider, based on a poll conducted by British recruiting firm Aaron Wallis]
(3) Don't worry, your personal information will be safe! Equifax, the company that lost to hackers the personal info for nearly half of all Americans, whose execs sold off their stock holdings after they learned about the massive data breach, but before telling us about it, and whose CEO "retired" after the breach with a multi-million-dollar parting gift, has been hired by IRS to help with "taxpayer and personal identity verification service." And I am not joking!
(4) Can you guess the party affiliation of an anti-abortion US Representative who sent a text message to his mistress, asking her to get an bortion?
(5) Why is it that what would have been knock-out punches for any other politician simply make Trump wobble for a while and return to upright position? Question of the day, indeed! [Time magazine cover image]
(6) Gerrymandering, via an example: This chart, from Time magazine, issue of October 9, 2017, shows why it is a good idea for Congressional districts to be drawn by non-partisan entities. It shows a hypothetical state with 60% red voters, 40% blue voters, and 5 districts (thus 5 representatives). Districting map 1 is fair, as it leads to the election of 3 red and 2 blue reps, in proportion to the population's political leanings. Districting map 2 results in 5 red reps, leaving the blue minority unrepresented. Districting map 3 leads to the minority actually gaining a majority 3 out of 5 reps. As I write, there are weirdly-shaped Congressional districts in which geographically separated areas are connected by a road, along with houses on its two sides. You may be in the same district with someone who lives 50 miles away, but in different districts with your left-side and right-side neighbors. See the map of the most gerrymandered districts (from a different on-line source) at the link above.
(7) Tonight's concert by Cory Henry and the Funk Apostles at UCSB: The event was preceded by a party, with DJ music, free goodies, and more in front of the venue, under a nearly full moon. The concert itself was a high-energy program that had the audience members clapping and singing along. The last song performed brought the audience to their feet. Here is an 18-minute video of the group's work from YouTube.

2017/10/03 (Tuesday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Waterfall in Ecuador Transforming war ('harb') to love ('hubbun'), by hiding its middle letter in Arabic Improvising for some fun, with minimal resources (1) Three interesting photos: [Left] Waterfall in Ecuador. [Center] Transforming war ('harb') to love ('hubbun'), by hiding its middle letter in Arabic. [Right] Improvising for some fun, with minimal resources.
(2) Nobel Prize in Physics awarded to three American researchers for the first observations of gravitational waves: Rainer Weiss is honored with half of the prize. Kip Thorne and Barry Barish will share the other half.
(3) Trump in Puerto Rico: He downplayed PR's dire conditions by citing the death toll of only 16. He told Puerto Ricans that they have thrown "our budget a little out of whack," as if they caused or invited the storm.
(4) Trevor Noah's insightful take on the Las Vegas mass-shooting tragedy: Why is it that some people say this is no time to discuss gun safety? Don't we discuss airline and flight safety right after a plane crashes, or infrastructural problems the same day a bridge collapses?
(5) Half-dozen brief items from the news, personal stories, and Internet postings:
- Portraits of Las Vegas massacre victims begin to emerge. And here are more portraits.
- White privilege in action: Criticizing how some media reports try to humanize the Las Vegas mass killer.
- Near-miss: A 100-foot asteroid will pass within a mere 27,000 miles of Earth on October 12, 2017.
- Israel plans to build an artificial island in Gaza, with air/sea ports, power station, and desalination plant.
- Tillerson working quietly to save the Iran nuclear deal, as the October 15 certification deadline nears.
- Mattis contradicts Trump on the Iran nuclear deal: Says US interest lies in sticking with the deal.
(6) You have more in common with the world, including people you hate, than you think: Proud Kurd finds out through DNA analysis that she is mostly Iranian/Turk/Jewish. Interestingly, DNA analysis of this kind is possible because for much of human history, we have been confined to the vicinity of our birthplace. DNA analysis of human remains from various regions allows us to deduce connections for living people who do the test. We are now quite mobile and within a couple of centuries (my guess), differences will all but disappear.
(7) Charity recommendation: Direct Relief International has been the charity of my choice through the recent Atlantic hurricanes and Mexico quakes. If you don't know where to donate or are dissatisfied with organizations you have used in the past, please look into DRI. Reports from Puerto Rico show them to be front and center in a wide array of relief efforts.
(8) The new "Star Trek: Discovery" TV series will have two women of color in lead roles: Just as was the case for the "Ghostbusters" film with female leads, reaction to CBS's casting decision has been nasty. Ever since Gene Roddenberry's creation, "Star Trek" has been a leader in raising awareness of social issues, such as introducing the first inter-racial kiss on American TV in 1968. I, for one, am rooting for the success of the new series. It's about time women are given roles they deserve based on merit. [Adapted from: Time magazine, issue of October 2, 2017]

2017/10/02 (Monday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Refrigerator, 1920s Captain Kirk of 'Star Trek' in a scene involving the first inter-racial kiss on American TV How babies used to fly on airplanes (1) History in pictures: [Left] Refrigerator, 1920s. [Center] Captain Kirk of "Star Trek" in a scene involving the first inter-racial kiss on American TV. [Right] How babies used to fly on airplanes.
(2) October 2, 1988, was the day we arrived in California from Canada: Next year will be the big 30th anniversary of arrival in Santa Barbara and working at UCSB. Still love the place after 29 years!
(3) Bernie Sanders digs up a Donald Trump tweet from 2015 about the absolute necessity of saving out social safety nets. Medicare will be gutted according to his budget proposal. Medicaid were to be eliminated altogether according to his healthcare plan.
(4) Gunman (now dead) fires from Mandalay Bay's 32nd floor on attendees of a Las Vegas music festival, using an automatic assault rifle, killing at least 50 and injuring more than 400, many critically. Unfortunately, if past events are any indication, no gun-control law will result from this horrible incident. This isn't a Second-Amendment issue but one of common sense and human empathy.
(5) Half-dozen brief items from the news, personal stories, and Internet postings:
- Tom Petty dead at 66 of cardiac arrest: Here's one of his hit songs, "You Don't Know How It Feels." RIP.
- Summer months wasted, leaving major repairs of UCSB's walkways to this first week of classes.
- Seven hilarious photo pose re-creations. [Pictorial]
- Sholeh-zard emojis. [Photo] [Should make it clear these Persian treats aren't my work!]
- Trump opponents and allies, according to comedian Tony Posnanski's tweet: "Just a reminder ... Hillary—Nasty | Mayor of San Juan—Nasty | NFL Players—Sons Of Bitches | Democrats—Losers | Nazis—Fine People
- Maybe Lady Gaga is on to something: xoxo, Gaga @ladygaga "Oh I see @realDonaldTrump you're not helping PR because of the electoral votes u need to be re-elected #Florida=29 #Texas=38 #PuertoRico=0"
(6) Three American scientists awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine: Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash, and Michael Young are honored for helping to explain how biological clocks work.
(7) Technical talk: Today, I attended a talk by Hsien-Hsin Sean Lee (Deputy Director of TSMC and Associate Professor at Georgia Tech) entitled "Moore and More: Design Trends and Challenges of Modern Chips." The main focus of the talk was extreme design and manufacturing difficulties as we move into the 7-nanometer regime and the necessity of leveraging various 3D IC technologies to make further progress when Moore's Law expires.
(8) Social/technical gathering: Members of IEEE's Central Coast Section and their guests met at Goleta's Rusty's Pizza for a pizza-and-beer mixer and to hear Dr. Michael C. Wicks of University of Dayton present a talk entitled "Advanced Sensor Concepts, Exploitation, Signal Processing, and Systems Engineering." The focus of the talk was how the availability of cheap sensors and the massive amounts of data they collect is changing many technologies and applications.

2017/10/01 (Sunday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Our beautiful world: Lake Louise, Canada (1) Our beautiful world: Lake Louise, Canada.
(2) Iran, 33 years after 1984: How PhotoShop is being used to alter historical photographs, a la "1984," to match the narratives of the Islamic regime. A photo of a mosque was PhotoShopped to insert Ayatollah Khamenei's image alongside that of Ayatollah Khomeini. In another instance, photo of a cabinet meeting was cropped in a textbook to remove Mir Hossein Mousavi, who appeared seated on the right edge.
(3) Interesting info about codes on your cell phone: One wonders, though, why the codes are secret and why the associated useful functionalities aren't provided in a more convenient form. I don't want to lock something and then not remember the code for unlocking it!
(4) Women are inferior, according to many Islamic clerics and their followers: In the aftermath of ending the driving ban for women in Saudi Arabia, a prominent cleric, who believed women should not drive because they have only a quarter of a brain, has been prohibited from preaching and other activities. The cleric had elaborated that women only have half a brain to begin with, but when they go out shopping, they end up with only a quarter. Maybe the rule for having four wives stems from this view: it's just a way of getting a complete brain in your women collectively! If I were him, I would stay indoors for a while due to the danger of being run over by the new female drivers!
(5) Ten brief news and other personal/on-line stories of the day:
- Anti-Fascist protesters confront far-right Neo-Nazis, who took to the streets in Sweden on Yom Kippur.
- Cymatics: Science and music linked in awe-inspiring experiments. [6-minute video]
- Chuck Schumer exposes Trump's tax-cuts-for-the-rich plan being peddled as tax-reform plan.
- Afghan soccer player Nadieh Nadim to join Manchester City's women's team.
- Further to my post on Hugh Hefner's passing, this article also suggests that he helped normalize misogyny.
- Women leaders in software engineering: The list compiled by Anita Borg Institute.
- Don't you wish your President would give this speech on diversity and race relations, and really mean it?
- Will Rex Tillerson be the next Trump cabinet member to go? [Trump tweet of 1 October 2017, 7:30 AM]
- Time to set aside Trump and his silly tweets to get some real work done! And here's the result.
- Did some work in the garage to clear up my little workspace, where I do minor repairs and small projects.
(6) Isn't it ironic that the guy who colluded with a country that wants to undermine the American democratic system represented by our flag is demanding that others respect that flag? [Bill Maher's take]
(7) [Final thought for the day] "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match: Tennis star Billie Jean King related in an interview with Seth Meyers that a 12-year-old Barack Obama watched her match against Bobby Riggs on TV and that he later told her that watching the match changed his life as the father of two daughters.

2017/09/30 (Saturday): Here are six items of potential interest.
US National Parks fundraising T-shirt (1) US national parks are in grave danger: The Trump administration plans to sell parts of our national parks to mining companies and developers. If you have been to national parks and enjoyed their serene beauty, consider helping the effort to fight these misguided policies. [Fundraising T-shirt]
(2) Puerto Ricans are suffering: San Juan mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz is really upset that Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke called Puerto Rico's recovery a "good news story." "This is a people are dying story; this is a life-or-death story," she said. Later, the Bully-in-Chief attacked the mayor caught in the middle of a humanitarian crisis. Can't get more narcissistic than this. Here's the Trump tweet:
"The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump."
People are dying, Mr. President! This isn't about you! Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz is living in a shelter, having lost her home. Any normal human being would give her a break, in light of her dire living conditions and feeling of helplessness as her people suffer. [Another Trump tweet, with response]
(3) Puerto Rico may become a testing ground for new electricity grid innovations: Among new methods being considered at Department of Energy's national labs is a collapsible grid system that can come down in high winds but be quickly restorable. Then, small modular nuclear reactors can be transported by cargo planes to the disaster area and plugged into the restored grid to provide temporary power. [Source: Bloomberg]
(4) Ten brief news and other personal/on-line stories of the day:
- Today's pets: My daughter told me she needed to order a book using my Amazon Prime account, because her kittens partially ate a loan copy. I agreed, but suggested that the kittens should at least write a review!
- Target has announced that it is raising its starting pay to $11 per hour, pledging to reach $15 in 2020. The main reason is to be able to attract and keep employees in a competitive job market.
- The US Senate committee investigating Russia ties chides Jared Kushner for failing to disclose his use of a private e-mail account for official WH business when he turned over records of his pertinent communications.
- Whole Foods has revealed a data breach for customers who made in-store purchases.
- Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigns amid serious questions about his use of private jets for travel: I guess the "Price" wasn't right for this country!
- The Trump administration is trying to roll back decades worth of civil rights gains: This time, it is proposing that companies should be allowed to consider an employee's "out-of-work sexual conduct" in making decisions.
- Sports Illustrated, issue of October 2, 2017, cover image: SI makes a political statement, but plays it safe by excluding a controversial athlete.
- Can you name the beautiful actress shown in her 20s in this photo?
- Israeli-Iranian singer Rita's 16-minute TEDx presentation, including some music and the story of her family's immigration from Iran to Israel when she was 8.
- "Welcome to the driver's seat": Ford's clever ad, playing on Saudi women's newly gained freedom to drive.
(5) The Equifax massive data breach: After exposing to digital thieves the personal data of nearly half of all Americans due to neglect, the CEO of Equifax, Richard Smith, retires and will get $90 million in payments. If history is any indication, he will not do jail time for what is certainly criminal conduct.
(6) College soccer: Tonight, UCSB men's team played at home against UC Riverside. Riverside scored in the 13th minute and UCSB in the 38th minute, for a 1-1 tie at halftime. In the second half, UCSB scored in the 54th and 86th minutes to win the game 3-1. Having scored 8 goals in the last two games (they got rather unlucky tonight, or they would have had 2 more goals), UCSB's offense seems to have found its touch, just in time for the harder part of the conference schedule. At halftime, kids' soccer teams participated in a banner parade.

2017/09/29 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Skull of a Roman soldier who died during the Gallic Wars, first century BC American soldiers show off their personalized Easter eggs, 1945 Liberated Jewish prisoner holds one of the German guards at gunpoint (1) History in pictures: [Left] Skull of a Roman soldier who died during the Gallic Wars, first century BC. [Center] American soldiers show off their personalized Easter eggs, 1945. [Right] Liberated Jewish prisoner holds one of the German guards at gunpoint.
(2) The GOP tax plan would hit California hard: The federal deduction for state and local taxes, to be eliminated, allowed California residents to reduce their taxable income by a total of $101 billion in 2014. The proposed restrictions on mortgage interest deduction would also hit Californians harder than residents of other states. California is being punished, it seems, by making it the single biggest loser state in a reckless tax scheme. [From: Los Angeles Times]
(3) Shadow theater performance in Los Angeles: A team of talented Artists from New York will present performances of "Feathers of Fire: A Persian Epic" at Bram Goldsmith Theater, October 20-29, 2017.
(4) Brief news items, entertaining clips, and head-scratching thoughts from around the Internet:
- If someone who believes in reincarnation dies, should the gravestone inscription include BRB instead of RIP?
- Simplified but useful view of which jobs will be obliterated and which will survive in our AI-driven future.
- The disastrous system that turned genius in four years! [Two Trump tweets]
- Cutting corporate taxes does not spur job growth: Here is why.
- Talented group of horn players: Street musicians perform a medley of several songs. [6-minute video]
(5) Iran may have faked a missile test to goad Trump: After the Iranian media re-broadcast a failed missile test footage from January 2017, pretending it was a new test, Trump tweeted that Iran is cooperating with North Korea and could reach Israel with this missile. [Source: Maziar Bahari, writing in the Iranwire Newsletter]
(6) Brain-inspired computing: UCLA researchers are constructing a brain-inspired device composed of highly interconnected silver nanowires. The mesh device, which self-configures out of random chemical and electrical processes and executes simple learning and logic operations, contains 1 billion artificial synapses per square centimeter. It enables users to select or mix outputs in a such way as to produce the result for a desired function of the inputs. [Source: Quanta magazine]
(7) Fake "Black Lives Matter" ads were directed at selected groups on Facebook: Russia also bought a wide array of other ads, including the ones shown in these images, using the name of a fictitious organization with no trace in the US. In fact, investigators have linked "Secure Borders" to Russia. Now, these ads do not implicate Trump directly, but each of the ads was precisely targeted to demographic groups in Pennsylvania and other states. It is highly unlikely that a Russian hacker, sitting in Moscow, would have the knowledge about which group of Americans would be most receptive to a given ad. Kushner was Trump campaign's digital media manager and, with help from a data analytics company owned by Steve Bannon, used similar targeting of Trump's own ads. It would be very surprising to me if Kushner's and Bannon's fingerprints aren't found all over Russia's targeted-ad campaign. This sheds some light on Bannon characterizing Trump's firing of James Comey as the biggest political mistake in modern times.
(8) Maryland sues EPA over power-plant pollution from other states: It contends that EPA failed to act on the Clean Air Act's good-neighbor provision, when it allowed pollution from upwind states (Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia) to nullify Maryland's progress in improving its air quality.
(9) Cartoon of the day: Declaration of full equality between men and women would be my preference, but in its absence, small victories in the domain of women's rights should be cherished. Last September, the mullahs in Iran were issuing edicts about bicycling ban for women. Needless to say, Iranian women took to the streets on bikes and, a year later, the mullahs seem to have retreated. [Image: From FB's "My Stealthy Freedom" page]

2017/09/28 (Thursday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Behrooz Parhami's PQRS Computer Architecture Lab at UCSB (1) Classes began at UCSB today: With the 2017-2018 academic year rolling out, various departmental and campus Web pages are being reviewed to ensure that they provide up-to-date information. Here is my latest lab/research spotlight on the ECE Web site.
[CE Research at UCSB] [Lab Spotlights]
(2) Voter fraud? Newsweek and Wired have confirmed, via access to public records, that White House aide Jared Kushner is registered to vote in both New York and New Jersey, with his gender listed as "Female" in NY and as "Unknown" in NJ.
(3) College soccer: This evening, the UCSB men's team played at home against Cal State Fullerton. Having gone winless in their first 6 games, the Gauchos won the next 3, to come into this first conference game with a 3-4-2 record (or 2-4-2, if the exhibition match against Club America U-20 is not counted). The student section of the stadium was filled to capacity for the first time this season. Fullerton scored first, with UCSB tying the game 1-1 just before halftime. In the second half, after ceding a second goal, UCSB recovered to score 4 goals in rapid succession to win 5-2, in its best game of the season.
On my way to Harder Stadium, I captured this view of the sunset on campus.
(4) While you were distracted by the NFL "kneeling" affair, a lot happened on the sidelines:
- The humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico worsened, with lives being lost or seriously threatened
- Tom Price's scandal regarding excessive use of private jets for business/personal travel worsened
- Republicans unveiled a $5 trillion tax cut plan, which includes a deep cut in the corporate tax rate
- The IRS agreed to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller in his Russia-ties investigation
- Bill O'Reilly told Fox news' Sean Hannity, "They don't want white people, generally, calling the shots"
(5) Sexual exploiter dead at 91: Everyone is writing about Hugh Hefner's passing. I resisted the urge to compose a blog entry about him, but I feel like I have to say something in the face of all who are making him look like a cultural icon or, even worse, a hero. In my student days, many men pretended that they read Playboy for its articles and interviews. Yes, it did have some good material, but the pretense was laughable. Others defended Hefner and his establishment by stating that they gave women a chance to make inroads into show business and successful careers as performers. They further stated that no one forced the women to pose nude or work at the Playboy Mansion. This is true in the same sense that no one forces women and children to work in sweatshops of Third-World countries. They have a choice between working as slave laborers (which would allow them to eat) and not working (which would mean starvation). Some choice!
(6) SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind lecture: Organizers of the SAGE Center lecture series didn't waste any time by scheduling the first lecture of the new academic year on this first day of classes. The lecture room was packed, with about 20 people standing along the walls.
The lecture topic was neuroeconomics or, more precisely, "How Neuroscience Can Inform Economics." Economics tries to explain consequential human choices and discover what variables change those choices. According to Wikipedia, neuroeconomics studies how economic behavior can shape our understanding of the brain, and how neuroscientific discoveries can constrain and guide economic models.
The speaker, Professor Colin F. Camerer of Caltech, has a long list of achievements and honors, including receiving a MacArthur Genius Award. An unexpected tidbit about him is that he owns his own record label (he lives in the Los Angeles area after all)!
While economics tends to explain human behavior by means of equations and optimizing value functions, neuroeconomics also pays attention to context, values, emotions and the like. An interesting example is provided by the assessment of future rew